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Why the History of Medicine?

Garabed Eknoyan


The merits of medical history have been appreciated ever since medicine emerged as a profession in antiquity. Research into the history of medicine began to be nurtured during the 18th century and courses on medical history began to be incorporated into the medical curriculum by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, the benefits of medical history and its inclusion in medical education have come under increasing scrutiny over the past few decades. Ironically, the erosion began at about the same time that scholarly work in the history of medicine was beginning whilst that of scientific discovery and innovation in medicine was accelerating.  Essentially, the demands of rigorous research into the history of medicine in the 20th century gradually led to the emergence of medical history as an independent discipline within academic departments of history.  Simultaneously, the exponential growth of new information generated by medical research led to an overcrowded medical curriculum in which teaching medical history is contested and dismissed. Paradoxically, it is the very wealth of new information being generated in medicine and its history that has led to an increasing chasm between them. This manuscript examines the reasons that brought about the separation of medicine from its history and proposes potential solutions to their rapprochement.

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