History of the Modern Hospital


Oct 16, 2017


Ancient Examples

For many ancient cultures, medicine and medical practices were closely linked with religion. Some of the earliest documented examples of hospitals were ancient Greek temples. The Greek god Asclepius was known for his healing abilities and temples dedicated to him were known as Asclepieia. These shrines functioned as centers of worship, medical advice, prognosis, and treatment.

Three large marble slabs were found in a temple in Epidaurus that dated back to 350 BCE; preserved on the tablets were the names, case histories, symptoms, and treatments of nearly 70 separate Greek patients. Similar temples were built by the Romans, who adopted Asclepius as their own deity. The healer-god’s influence exists to this day. The Rod of Asclepius, depicted as a staff with a single snake coiled around it, is the logo of many modern medical organizations.

Roman Medicine

Romans constructed buildings called valetudinarian to take care of their sick soldiers, slaves, and gladiators. After the Roman Empire officially declared Christianity an accepted religion, medical care became more widespread; soon every cathedral town had a hospital equivalent. Some of these hospitals also contained libraries and training programs for resident physicians, as well as clearly distinguished staff members. Hospital staff in Byzantine were split between the hyperetai (orderlies), hypourgoi (nurses) and archiatroi (chief doctor).

Early Europe

Hospital care first started to become secular during the 1500s. Members of the Protestant Reformation opposed the popular Christian idea at the time that God’s grace could be gained by donating to charitable institutions or by quietly suffering without care. When King Henry VIII dissolved English, Welsh and Irish monasteries in 1540, the church immediately withdrew its support from local hospitals. London citizens petitioned for the monarchy to support the St. Bartholomew’s, St. Thomas’s and St. Mary of Bethlehem’s hospitals, which then became the first ever secular medical institutions.
Protestant beliefs also emphasized medical science instead of the religious aspects of patient care, fostering the idea that physician and nursing duties were an academic profession.

Modern Enlightenment

The 1700s Age of Enlightenment helped create the hospitals most people are familiar with today. Hospitals became centers that served only medical needs and were staffed with trained doctors and surgeons. Medical services became more specialized and hospitals emphasized the use of modern treatment methods to cure patients, becoming centers of medical innovation. Charitable dispensaries became popular in the 1770s, offering poor citizens necessary medicine free-of-charge.

In 1803 English physician Thomas Percival published a comprehensive system of medical conduct titled “Medical Ethics, or a Code of Institutes and Precepts, Adapted to the Professional Conduct of Physicians and Surgeons,” which quickly set the standard for medical textbooks and education.

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