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Books, Journals, New Media
April 11, 2001

Nautical MedicineRough Medicine: Surgeons at Sea in the Age of Sail

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 2001;285(14):1894-1895. doi:10.1001/jama.285.14.1894-JBK0411-4-1

Perhaps another title would have been more apt, for Rough Medicine: Surgeons at Sea in the Age of Sail is mostly a portrayal of the rough life aboard 19th-century South Seas whaling ships as seen through the eyes of surgeons who accompanied them. Author Joan Druett notes that some of the most detailed chronicles of life aboard the South Seas whalers come down to us through journals kept by seagoing surgeons. By law, British whalers were required to carry a surgeon. Although American whalers were not similarly burdened by this legal requirement, it certainly was not uncommon to find a surgeon aboard such a vessel. More often than not, however, the doctoring might be done by the captain or even the captain's wife, who sometimes accompanied her spouse on whaling voyages that might last two or three years.

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