20th Century Medicine

16.05.2015 |

Episode #10 of the course “Brief History of Medicine”

With more rapid growth in scientific fields than in any other century, the advances in medicine during the 20th century have more than doubled the average person’s lifespan. In the early 1900s, urbanization caused increased need for regulated sanitation, and people in general became cleaner. Alexander Fleming’s 1928 discovery of penicillin was one of the most important medical discoveries in all of history; when combined with developing germ theories, physicians were able to increase many patients’ chances of survival after injury or illness. The widespread use of penicillin was possible as laboratories began to mass-produce products that physicians could prescribe to ailing patients, such as aspirin and cortisone.

As quickly as medicines progressed in the 20th century, medical technology progressed ever faster. With the invention of the X-ray machine in 1913, doctors could begin to look inside their patients without cutting them open. Other technologies such as the CAT scan and the MRI machine provided doctors with better diagnostic tools through less invasive procedures. The advancements in technology and the new research being conducted around the world contributed to medicine becoming a more specialized industry. Today, some physicians spend more than a decade studying to become experts in their field of medicine.

DNA is the genetic sequence that directs cell function and ultimately distinguishes one type of life from another. When Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA in the 1950s, medical science opened new possibilities for all life forms. Each piece of DNA contains massive amounts of information, and computer technology makes it possible to store, organize, retrieve, and analyze human and other life forms’ DNA codes. In the late 1990s, a program was launched to document the pattern of coding for a human DNA sequence; however, it was not completed by the turn of the century.


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