Monthly Archives: June 2015

The History of Medicine

Recently I visited the Science Museum in London which was rather compelling. I could have spent days there, considering two floors cover the history and developments of medicine. Nevertheless, in the limited time I had I managed to view a considerable number of the exhibits.

Learning about how technology and treatments have advanced was most interesting.

Electrotherapy room
Electrotherapy room

For example, before my visit I had no idea about the previous treatment of using electrical machines in the early 1900s to treat patients. Dr Alexander Bruce was most advanced in this use of electricity and used such apparatus in his work on damaged nerves. In an electrotherapy room, the doctor would test to see if the muscle responded to a small electric current being passed through it. In order to do this the patient would hold an electrode on his chest while the doctor would hold the other on the end of the muscle which is being tested.

Heart transplant surgery
Heart transplant surgery

Excellent models were on display of various medicinal situations such as heart transplant surgery. This was particularly thought-provoking as it showed how when the heart is being operated on it is connected to a heart-lung machine. The blood from the heart is directed to the machine where it is pumped over a folded, polypropylene membrane enabling it to gain oxygen and give up carbon dioxide. Furthermore, in the operating room there are two clocks; one that shows the actual time of the day and one that indicates the elapsed time in order to know how long a patient has been connected to the heart-lung machine.

The museum provided so much information on medicine, from the prehistoric age right up until today.

Medicinal Plants
Medicinal Plants

I was particularly fascinated by the different medicinal properties of plants; I learned that rhubarb root cured distended (swollen) stomach, any pain as well as diseases of the spleen (largest lymphatic organ), liver and kidneys. Other remedial plants included cabbage; ointment was made from its leaves which prevented hair loss; colocynth, which was used in a mouthwash to cure mouthwash, and opium; a pain-killer and a sleeping draught.

Progressions made in medical practice itself were also demonstrated. I learned that nursing did not become a profession until the end of the 19th century and that midwives were not registered by the state until 1902. Training to actually become a registered doctor was extremely expensive; many that would have formally become herbalists or midwives could not afford to be trained as doctors. In addition, women were excluded from becoming a doctor until the 1860s when Elizabeth Blackwell and Elizabeth Garrett challenged this. However, even by 1901 only 212 of the total 36,354 registered doctors were women. This revelation was inspiring for me; only in the past century has my desired career choice actually become available for women to occupy.

Indeed, I could write so much more on all of the other facts and figures I learnt from this experience. Hence, I would definitely recommend visiting the museum, especially as it is free entry, if you are particularly interested. The visit for me was a real eye-opener into the world of medicine; now I’m more aware of the history of the occupation and I cannot wait to be a part of it.

If you wish to find out more about the technology and medicine section of the museum go to: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife.aspx, or visit the museum itself as it’s open 7 days a week 10am-6pm.