The use of plants for healing ailments depicted in cave paintings suggest that herbal medicine was practiced since prehistoric times. Using trail and error as a means of gaining experience, many tribal cultures had developed a database of medical knowledge that was used to cure many diseases. The earliest known surgery was performed in Egypt as far back as 2750 BC. Christopher Freville says that the Edwin Smith Papyrus sheds a lot of light on the level of advancement of Egyptian medicine. Although there was always a mix of the supernatural element with traditional Egyptian medicine, they were effectively used in the fields of public health, anatomy and clinical diagnostics.
The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus dating back to 1800 BC details the diagnosis and treatment of women’s complaints which include problems with conception. By the 1st Dynasty of ancient Egypt, medical institutions known as �Houses of Life’ were established. Christopher Freville says that at the time of the 19th Dynasty, a few workers even enjoyed benefits such as pension, medical insurance and sick leave. Ancient Egypt is also known to have had the earliest known physician, Hesyre who was �Chief of Dentists and Physicians’ in 10 BC during the 27th Dynasty ruled by King Djoser. Peseshet was the earliest known woman physician who practiced during the 4th Dynasty. She even graduated midwives in a medical school in Sais, ancient Egypt and was titled �Lady Overseer of the Lady Physicians’.
Medicine was also practiced in Babylon as seen in the oldest Babylonian texts dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. One diagnostic handbook written during the reign of the Babylonian king Adad-apla-iddina by the physician Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa between 1069-1046 BC serves as the most extensive Babylonian medical text. The Babylonians also practiced diagnosis, physical examination and prognosis and wrote prescriptions. Christopher Freville observes that the Babylonians even used creams, pills and bandages in their medical procedures.
The physician Hippocrates of ancient Greece compiled a collection of around 70 medical works known as the Hippocratic Corpus. Babylon and Egypt played a large role in influencing Greek medicine. Hippocrates of Kos is in fact considered the �father of modern medicine’. He also authored the Hippocratic Oath which is still used by physicians today. He is credited with the categorization of illnesses into various categories such as chronic, acute, epidemic and endemic. According to Christopher Freville the first documented chest surgeries were conducted by Hippocrates and his findings are still relevant today.
The Romans invented the surgical use of cross-bladed scissors, surgical needle, scalpel, forceps, cautery and specula. They also first devised instruments unique to the treatment of women’s disorders. They also pioneered cataract surgery. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman as well as Greek medical texts were preserved in monasteries. From the 12th century onwards, medicine established itself as a faculty alongside law and theology in the first European Universities. Advancement in chemistry and in laboratory equipment and techniques revolutionized medicine in the 19th century. Bacteriology and virology gained a lot of attention. The 20th century also witnessed the emergence of medical schools which facilitated better medical care to the sick.