17th Century Medicine
Episode #7 of the course “Brief History of Medicine”
With the rise of the middle class and innovative inventions like the woodcut press for images and the printing press for text, the 17th century exploded with new information of every kind. The field of medicine began to develop when physicians questioned the accepted theories of medicine from Galen, Hippocrates, Aristotle, and other classic teachers. Bringing their observations of biology and physiology together in precise studies of human anatomy (rather than anatomies of animals such as dogs and apes), physicians began to utilize the scientific method for new medical techniques.
The new class of business owners and commercial agents across Europe meant that more people could afford preventative and healing medicines, as well as surgeries or attention from physicians and specialists. As demand soared for medical professionals, universities across Europe added studies in medical sciences, and publications based on observation and experimentation were shared at a pace never before seen. Physicians began to attach environmental factors such as cleanliness in the operating room with specific risks of infection, and assessed how to minimize risks through instrument sterilization, tourniquets, anesthetics, and quick surgery.
By the end of the 17th century, physicians had observed and collected data about blood circulation by observing capillaries under a microscope. In 1670, the first blood transfusion between two people was performed successfully. Although it was only performed one additional time before the series of experiments was generally abandoned, the procedure was inspirational proof to many contemporaries that the medical field was edging into a new realm of discovery. It became an image in the public consciousness of the power of science.
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