As part of a history project for the New York Academy of Medicine, I'm investigating the formalization of the divide between science and medicine.

I've begun by looking at the difference in how scientists for biologically-related disciplines and medical personnel are educated.

The immediate response of "different training for different roles" ignores how much those roles have come to be intertwined. It, moreover, doesn't speak to the history of the medical curriculum nor the later stages of physician education, such as fellowship. Fellowships often require the trainee to publish scientific material in a peer-reviewed journal to complete. Similarly, graduate schools do encourage their students to take clinical courses, for example a neuroscientist-in-training taking neurology courses.

For a brief period in the 1700s-1950s in Western Europe the line between a scientists and physician was blurred. Jenner and Salk were active physicians who developed vaccines. All recent MDs who won the Nobel Prize for medicine spend all their time in laboratory research.

My question then becomes that of what about modern clinical practice entails an education disparate from that of scientific education when there are historical suggestions that this divide is artificial?

Aside: I have no formal training in historical research. I welcome critiques both about the content as well as my thought process.

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    Also, why do you believe that History is the best Stack to ask this question on? Almost any of the Science stacks seem more suitable to me. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 14 '13 at 15:36
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    When you say a brief period in the 1700s-1950s, are you saying that the 1700s to the 1950s was itself a brief period, or are you referring to a brief period which occurred within that timespan? (Grammatically, the meaning is the latter; the former makes more semantic sense, but I'm not sure on what timescale 250 years counts as "brief". Depends how broad a sweep of history you're considering, I suppose.) – TRiG Dec 15 '13 at 1:19
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    when there are historical suggestions that this divide is artificial I fail to understand how they can be artificial: A biologist has no need to learn how to dress a wound or what's the appropriate dosage of a medication. – user2590 Dec 15 '13 at 5:26
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    This is actually a "history of medical education" question, I think. Formally within the purview of this site but probably too specialized to get an answer, I am afraid. Perhaps you should post it to medical forums. I'm sure there are doctor out there who are interested in the history of medical education, and vice versa: most likely such people will be doctors. – Felix Goldberg Dec 15 '13 at 14:05
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    @TRiG: Certainly on geological and cosmological timespans, 250 years is brief; I can't think of any historical timeframe that would regard 250 years as brief. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 15 '13 at 18:22

There was a time when all of the sciences were referred to as "Natural Philosophy", and it was quite possible for an educated gentelman to keep up with the latest developments in everything.

However, when you compound hundreds of years of "latest developments", that no longer becomes possible, and a meer human being has to specialize. So now we have Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, Medicine, etc.

Are the exact divisions in the fields somewhat artificial, historical, and abitrary? Yup. But you have to draw a line somewhere.

In particular, I see the relationship between Medicine and Biology very much like the relationship between Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (and of Physics and Electrical Engineering, etc). One is much more focused on research and learning new things, while the other is nessecarily more focused on getting things actually working well in the real world. Yes, there's significant overlap there. In fact there has to be for any useful advances to be made. But they are still different disciplines with different priorities.


Physics is identical with Natural Philosophy; always has been.

As various branches of Physics specialized they have come to be recognized as separate disciplines in their own right. The Engineering disciplines on the other hand evolve more directly from Civil and Military Engineering, as those have expanded into areas of newer science, spawning separate specialized disciplines.

Similarly the theoretical life science disciplines have evolved out of specializations of Biology, while the practical life sciences have evolved from specializations of (Human and Veterinary) Medicine and Surgery. As both original inspirations have expanded and spawned overlaps have developed.

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