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JAMA 100 Years Ago
September 2, 1998


Author Affiliations

Edited by Brian P. Pace, MA.

JAMA. 1998;280(9):764W. doi:10.1001/jama.280.9.764

In 1578, a chair of medicine was initiated in the University of Mexico—that institution being then twenty-five years old—and was the first of the kind to be established in the New World. It was called the prima or morning class, and the professor was expected to cover the whole field of the science, as it then was taught; and it was said that he managed to do so in the course of four years. The student, as the custom then was, was required to serve a pupilage under some practitioner for a longer or shorter period. Candidates had previously to study Latin and to go through the course of arts, and astrology or mathematics, and to obtain the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In 1599 a second chair of medicine was founded, which was called vesperas, or evening class. In 1661 chairs of methodus medendi and of anatomy and surgery were established; and later a class of dissection and operative surgery was added. At the end of the curriculum the student obtained the degree of Bachelor of Medicine; subsequently, after a fresh examination, that of licentiate; and finally, after an interval, that of doctor. In 1768 a Royal College of Surgeons was established on the model of similar colleges then existing in Cadiz and Barcelona. In this college practitioners of a lower grade were trained; they were called "Romancist surgeons," to distinguish them from the "Latin surgeons" who studied in the University. At this College, also, phlebotomists, dentists, bone-setters, midwives, etc., picked up such scraps of knowledge as were required for the exercise of their several functions. After a time an ordinance was made that no one should be allowed to matriculate in this school who did not know Latin. In 1830 a further step was taken for the improvement of the professional education of the surgeons in the shape of an enactment that no one should be admitted to the school of surgery who had not previously obtained the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy. In 1831 the two branches of the profession were finally amalgamated; all candidates were required to submit to examination in medicine and surgery, and the faculty conferred a diploma in both, instead of the various diplomas of physician, "Latin surgeon," and "Romancist surgeon," which had previously been given. The numerous political changes which swept over Mexico in the years following 1833 affected the medical school, which was several times closed, and more than once in danger of destruction. Largely owing to the public spirit of its professors, however, it managed to survive, and under the enlightened administration of General Diaz, it has now developed into a highly efficient teaching institution. Before 1833 it had 11 professorships; from that date to 1877 only 5 were added. From 1877 to the present date 10 new chairs have been established, without counting a large class of clinical teachers, assistants and prosectors.