What Does Your Doctor Know? Exploring the History of Physician Education from Early Greek Theory to the Practice of Duke Medicine.

Changing role of surgeons

Duke University Medical Center students watching a professor perform surgery

Surgery instruction: Duke University Medical Center students watching a professor perform surgery

Today, surgeons and physicians are on equal footing in terms of prestige and recognition, but that has not always been the case. In earlier times, the physician received a formal education at a university. Surgeons learned on the job as apprentices and did not always attend formal schooling. The surgeon did the “dirty work”, lancing boils, healing burns, bleeding people. The dichotomy between the two blurred gradually as restrictions governing medical practice loosened in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With these changes came the recognition that a more structured and formal surgical education was needed, along with the realization that surgeons and physicians had much to learn from each other. Formal surgical education emerged at the same time that physician training began to require students to work in clinical settings and in hospitals and to interact directly with patients rather than solely receiving their education from a textbook.