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JAMA 100 Years Ago
January 30, 2008

WHAT CONSTITUTES THE PRACTICE OF MEDICINE?

JAMA. 2008;299(4):463. doi:10.1001/jama.2007.52

The entire difficulty that has sprung up about what would seem to be one of the simplest of questions arises, as almost all such difficulties do arise, from a lack of attention to the history of the thing, as exemplified in the etymology of the name by which it is known.

There is undoubtedly a widespread idea that the “practice of medicine” derives its name from the custom of administering so-called “medicines.” On more than one occasion this idea has found direct expression, or has been sustained by implication, by persons intelligent and learned enough to occupy judicial positions. This view is well exemplified in a passage quoted by an exchange1 from a New York daily paper. The latter, speaking of the remarkable feat of Edward Payson Weston, in walking, at the age of 69, from Portland, Me., to Chicago, in less than a month, says: “But the old man's fine example as an exponent of the life of simple diet and fresh air ought to make peculiar and effective appeal to millions who now pin their faith to drugs and to doctors” (italics ours). On this the New York State Journal of Medicine aptly comments: “The remarkable feature of this editorial is in the implication that healthful, wholesome living is not related to the medical profession so much as drugs are.”

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