According to the author Marc McCutcheon in his book, ‘Everyday Life in the 1800s’, most medical students were learning the doctoring ‘trade’ through the apprentice system. Boys, fifteen years and older, would stay in with physicians and get their education by working for them.
The arrangement lasted anywhere from two to six years with some students then continuing on to a formal medical school for at least two to four more years of education and to obtain a degree. The majority of physicians at the beginning of the century, however, opened their practices without having obtained a degree. Medical schools, around five of them, opened by 1810.
A book called ‘Everyday Life during the Civil War’, written by Michael Varhola, makes a few statements that were pretty interesting and said that the medical schools in operation had very little training during the Civil War. In the 19th century, training for surgeons typically consisted of three, thirteen-week semesters of medical school.
Some good medical schools did exist, mainly at established colleges and universities like Princeton and Yale. Programs at these schools lasted one or two years and consisted almost entirely of classroom instruction, with just a few weeks of medical residency. Training each year was identical. Not all students felt like doing the second year of studying, which was actually required. There is no mention of medical equipment.
Then there is Candy Moulton’s book, ‘Everyday Life in the Wild West – from 1840 to 1900′ which states that there were some trained physicians in the West, but that much of the area relied on the knowledge and commonsense of individuals who had no formal training. Their knowledge came from watching others in action. You could tell people you were a doctor even if you did not have training and they took your word for it. California had a medical practice law in 1866 and Texas was the first state to establish a board of medical examiners in 1873. Western medical schools included the Medical Dept of the University of the Pacific founded in 1859, which became the Cooper School and ultimately, Stanford School of Medicine.
Doctors used to register with local county clerks before establishing a practice, but such regulations weren’t uniformly enforced until late in the period. What used to happen in those days is that a doctor would settle down in an area, open an office – sometimes in a pharmacy or drug store – and hang up a sign or put an ad in the local paper. Leather satchels and saddle bags were used for doctors’ medical supplies. When the Civil War was over, army surplus instruments in velvet-lined field cases were used as medical kits.
Medical equipment during the Civil War was antiquated, and usually consisted of lancets which were boiled. Patients were given a shot of whiskey for their pain and their wounds were cleaned with whiskey, because those days they didn’t have chloroform or morphine, according to a You Tube Video. I don’t know how true this, but I’m sure watching old westerns had a lot to do with it.