Medical Care and the General Practitioner, 1750-1850

Medical Care and the General Practitioner, 1750-1850

Medical Care and the General Practitioner, 1750-1850

Medical Care and the General Practitioner, 1750-1850

Synopsis

Unlike most histories of the medical profession between 1750 and 1850, which focus on a small handful of famous doctors and their discoveries, this book concentrates on the neglected but far larger group of rank and file practitioners: the surgeon-apothecaries of the late 18th century and the general practitioners of the early 19th century. Delving into an array of manuscript sources, Loudon examines their social and economic status, their background and training, their scientific methods and medical challenges, and their patients and pay-scales. He demonstrates that they actually faced unparalleled intraprofessional rivalry in an overcrowded profession during these years -- the effects of which are still seen in the structure of Britain's medical establishment today.

Excerpt

Medical practitioners in the eighteenth century came from a very wide background; but, as might be anticipated, a large number were the sons or nephews of medical men. There were substantial advantages in following in the footsteps of a father or an uncle. The apprenticeship premium was usually nil or a token amount such as £5. An even greater advantage was the introduction to an established practice without the expense of buying a partnership. The early years of a single-handed practitioner who settled in an area where he was a stranger could be very difficult. A new, young practitioner was often distrusted and faced back-biting competition from established practitioners. It was far better, if possible, to join a medical relation first as apprentice, then as partner, and finally as his successor. It was a painless entrance to a prosperous occupation, and it was frequently done.

The range of paternal occupations is shown in tables 2, 3, and 4. The first of these tables, which covers the period from 1760 to 1830, is based on the biographies recorded by the Bristol surgeon, Richard Smith junior. Most of the practitioners in this table practised either in Bristol or in some other part of the south-west of England. The father's occupation is recorded for two groups of medical men, physicians and all other practitioners.

Table 3 is based on the records of the Society of Apothecaries. Between 1764 and the end of 1781 (but not before or afterwards) all the entries in the apprentice bindings book contained details of the father's occupation, his address, whether he had died, and the 'consideration' (premium) paid, as well as the name and address of the apothecary to whom the apprentice was indentured. Nearly all the apothecaries lived in London; a few lived in the home counties. Of the apprentices, eighty came from London or the county of Middlesex, sixty-four came from the provinces -- almost all from the south of England from Essex to Cornwall -- two came from Wales, and one each from Newfoundland . . .

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