Course Content (Syllabus)
History of medicine is an integral part of medical training. It is impossible to hope for medical progress ignoring its history, the errors of the past and the stages it went through so as to evolve from being an art to science. History recounts how we learnt whatever we learnt, why research is important and why its elaboration is hard. History provides us with numerous examples of wrong choices in medical practice, in ethics and deontology and in the establishment of the relationship between medicine and society. History recognizes people and organizations that helped in the progress of medicine and transformed it to science thus providing motives to the students to ameliorate. It teaches humbleness, since countless dead-ends and mistakes existed in the past and really intelligent people were involved. History recounts how mistakes may lead to knowledge and why it is important to face research queries using the method of refutation instead of simply citing facts, so as to avoid fallacies. Knowing the history of an idea makes learning in depth easier. Taking into account that students focus on practical and directly related to medical practice courses, history may seem boring and/or a distraction. In the end though, it is proved to be an extremely practical course and for most of the students, it is easier when taught within specific scope, with interesting examples, reconstructions of methods and practices etc.
An effort is made to present medicine of ancient cultures, Homeric medicine, the medical elements found in Greek mythology, and medicine practiced in the Asclepieia, demonstrating that medicine was empiric and theocratic, while examples are provided demonstrating the physician-healer. After the appearance of the first scintillae of philosophy, numerous philosophical questions stirred up the well-established belief in hypernatural powers that intervene in people’s lives. A direct result was Empedocles’ theory of the four elements, according to which, everything is comprised of four cosmogonic elements. Hippocratic medicine arrived in this crucial moment and makes history as the first attempt to rationalize medicine and to build a “pathophysiological theory” based on the body, the environment and other physiological factors. Later, Hellenistic period is marked by the legitimate performance of post-mortem examinations for research purposes. As a result, Herophilus and Erasistratus made history with their discoveries in the fields of anatomy and physiology. Nevertheless, this temporally tiny ray of progress was followed by the establishment of the Roman Empire whose fear for everything new – all the more for medical progress – led to regression and to the reintroduction of theocratic and empirical beliefs and practices. This is the existing background when Galen came to the fore. He conducted experiments to animals and discovered and described numerous entities, reinstating and enriching the Hippocratic tradition. With the transfer of the capital of the empire to Constantinople, medicine entered a new era. On one hand, Byzantine medicine is developed with the establishment of xenons and with the practice of philanthropic medicine, while on the other hand, Arabic medicine is developed, with the transmission of ancient Greek knowledge through translations and additions from the experience and practice of the Arabs. The latter is next transferred to the first medical schools in Spain, while the West lives deep in the darkness of the Dark Ages, with prohibitions in research and in medical practice. Whatsoever, with the advent of Renaissance, medicine restarts to evolve and progress is noticed, such as in the cases of Vesalius, Paracelsus, Paré. During the 17th century, with the evolution in natural sciences, important discoveries were made (blood circulation, microscope, microscopic anatomy) that boosted medicine to be consolidated as a science, leaving behind its art status. During the 18th century, philosophy is developed, and the first attempt of taxonomy is attributed to Linnaeus. This led to the establishment of new medical systems and achievements (ie. Morgagni, Hunter, Pinel, Jenner etc). Medicine evolves fast and during the 19th century the important personalities and achievements are countless (Bichat, Magendie, Bernard, Laennec, Pasteur, Broca, Virchow, Koch, Röntgen, Billroth, Parkinson, Hodgkin, Graves, Osler, Lister, Semmelweis, Mendel, Pavlov, Metchnikoff, Behring, Ehrlich etc). Subsequently, 20th century is flooded with progress in all specialties and in medical technology (ie hematology-anaphylaxis, cardiac surgery, transplantations, neurosurgery, genetics, gynaecology, medical technology, insulin, antibiotics, preventive medicine, endocrinology, neurology, psychiatry). This course also presents medicine practiced in Greece or by Greek doctors after the establishment of the Greek country. Thus, the first scientific medicine in modern Greece practiced in the Eptanese is described, along with the conditions that led to the establishment of the University of Athens. People though, are an integral part of progress and this is the reason why we also teach about the work of Greek doctors that aided medical progress wordwide.