The Divided Path: The German Influence on Social Reform in France after 1870

By Allan Mitchell | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Physicians and Patients

The profession of medicine was crucial for any effort to raise the standards of public health. If new hygienic measures were to be effectively implemented, it would be necessary to have a sufficient corps of well-trained medical personnel. According to some accounts, this was scarcely a problem throughout much of the nineteenth century. If anything, it has been suggested, France suffered from a glut of doctors who emerged from the best system of medical education in Europe.1 The reality was otherwise. The French nation never had remotely enough qualified physicians to meet the medical needs of its entire population. Perhaps the rich were properly treated in Paris. But indigents in the city and rural folk across the countryside were always neglected. What perpetually characterized the French medical profession was maldistribution of doctors, inadequacy of facilities, and lack of funds for expansion.2

These conditions were fully exposed by the war of 1870. From that time on, the realization that France was facing a medical crisis began to spread. This new awareness focused at first on the fact that the country lacked enough medical schools. With Strasbourg detached, only the faculties of Paris and Montpellier remained. Hence a program was launched in the 1870s to create additional centers of medical instruction in Nancy, Lille, Lyon, and Bordeaux.3 Yet this effort, important as it surely was, begged a number of ulterior questions. What kind of training should medical students receive? How should they be deployed? What institutional innovations would be required to support an expanded scheme of public health? These were just a few of the issues that came under consideration in the

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