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November 15, 1985

Historians strive to improve perspective, practice of medicine

JAMA. 1985;254(19):2713-2720. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360190017002

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Every so often, an article on the history of medicine will appear in a medical journal. "The Story of Famous Doctor X." "How So-and-So Discovered Such-and-Such." "Medical Practice in Ancient Land Y." One busy practitioner may gratefully skip such articles, while another may skim them. Now and then, however, it may cross a reader's mind: Why should I be interested in medical history? And why in the world would anyone spend time studying Galen's view of the circulatory system?

The authors of these histories of medicine will quickly jump to answer. Some will say they study the history of medicine to inspire themselves or others about the medical profession; conversely, some use their studies to engender humility about today's ephemeral theories.

Others are trying to rediscover ideas useful to modern practice or investigation, to broaden general knowledge, or to put into context modern medical theories and events—perhaps to influence science