This is the first of several short posts looking at how important historical figures have impacted on the practise of medicine and the study of human biology today. Modern approaches to science are informed by understandings of the past and few individuals have made a more lasting contribution to the field of medicine than the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates of Cos.
Hippocrates was born in the 5th century BC into a noble family that had been practising medicine for a number of generations. Although some of his theories, such as humourism, have long been discredited he pioneered the rational approach to treatment that forms the foundation of Western medicine.
While Hippocrates is often known as the “father of medicine”, he should perhaps be known as “the father of clinical medicine”, as the careful observation and documentation of clinical symptoms was a hallmark of the Hippocratic school of thought. He and his followers used diagnostic procedures that aimed to determine the cause of disease based on a patient’s symptomatology, taking into account family history and lifestyle factors. They dismissed supernatural causes of illness and prescribed holistic treatments that involved drug therapies, dietary changes, mental relaxation and physical exercise. Patients were also advised to get plenty of sleep and fresh air.
Despite working to ensure that medicine became regarded as a discipline distinct from theology and philosophy, he also laid out a number of ethical principles to guide medical practice. The benevolence, concern for confidentiality and standards of care described in the Hippocratic Oath still guide the professional conduct of doctors today.
University of Seville. (2010). Hippocrates [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdctsevilla/4842887491
Orfanos, C. (2007). From Hippocrates to modern medicine. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 21(6), 852-858. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.