Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

By Steven M. Stowe | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
STARTING OUT

“I am now in very fact a Doctor and feel fully repaid for all the sacrifices made and privations suffered,” Samuel Van Wyck wrote to his wife in Anderson Court House, South Carolina, after receiving his medical degree in the spring of 1860. Two years earlier, he had quit the tannery business to plumb the mysteries of medicine. “So far I have done as well as my best friends could wish,” he wrote, referring to his teachers and fellow students. “I now long to be a candidate for public favor and once more in the way of making a living.” His letter may be read as a kind of graduation address, a farewell and a commencement. Many new physicians wrote similarly, announcing their new status to their families and in their diaries; older physicians, too, recalled this time as a major turning point in their lives. Taking this cue from doctors’ writing, this chapter looks at physicians starting out in practice as a time when their sense of who they were was revealingly elastic—stretched between schooled ideals and the now pressing need to make a living and to come to personal terms with sickness. As a result, orthodoxy, too, took on a troubling but inventive elasticity. Men spoke with conviction about cleaving to orthodox ideals. But many a graduate, like Samuel Van Wyck, realized that as a “candidate for public favor” he would have to embrace an orthodoxy flexible enough to survive in a harsh, competitive world.1

Thus, stepping into the gap between school and acceptance into a rural community, graduates discovered that the world of the school quickly receded and the broader fraternal professionalism that it promised was in some ways a stark fiction. The professionalization of medicine in this era usually is written as a story of elite physicians mastering the values and organization that underwrote modernity. Here it is explored as a predicament of the novice practitioner on the ground, in many ways on his own. Men managed this rough transition by

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Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Studies in Social Medicine ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - Physicians, Everyday Medicine, and the Country Orthodox Style 1
  • Part One - Choosing Medicine 13
  • Chapter One - Men, Schools, and Careers 15
  • Chapter Two - The Science of All Life 41
  • Chapter Three - Starting out 76
  • Part Two - Doing Medicine 99
  • Chapter Four - Livelihood 101
  • Chapter Five - Bedside 131
  • Part Three - Making Medicine 165
  • Chapter Six - The Lives of Others 167
  • Chapter Seven - Landscape, Race, and Faith 200
  • Chapter Eight - Witnessing 228
  • Epilogue - The Civil War and the Persistence of the Country Orthodox Style 259
  • Notes 273
  • Bibliography 327
  • Index 365
  • Studies in Social Medicine 374
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