April 3, 1967

The Changing Image of the American Physician

Author Affiliations

From the Department of the History of Medicine, Tulane University, New Orleans.

JAMA. 1967;200(1):30-34. doi:10.1001/jama.1967.03120140088013

The high status that American physicians enjoy in present day society is largely a product of two factors, the broad application of science and technology to medicine and the advancing standard of living which has created a steadily increasing demand for medical services. This fortunate situation is of quite recent origin. Indeed, the 20th century was at hand before the art of medicine successfully united with science and technology to provide a sound basis for the profession. During much of American history, practitioners of medicine had relatively low status.

In the colonial period, the most immediate problem arose from the acute shortage of properly trained medical men. While a great many Americans who trace their genealogy discover that their forefathers were aristocrats, nonetheless, the majority of settlers to the New World came from the lower economic groups. Physicians in 17th- and 18th-century Europe were trained in universities, a fact which