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ON THE MEDICAL PROFESSION.
BY JOHN G. COFFIN, M. D.
Read at the annual meeting, June 5, 1822.
GENTLEMEN, In conformity to the duty assigned me, I now proceed to submit to your consideration some remarks on Medical Education, and on the Medical Profession.
The existence of physicians, nominal or real, at all periods of time, and in every condition of society, where men have felt their natural wants, and attempted to supply them, I receive as sufficient evidence that the profession of medicine is founded in the necessities of mankind.
Since then we must have, what we cannot live without, it is well to make good, what is already indispensable.
Having the alleviation of one of our chief wants in view, the art of medicine is, even at the present moment, of the most direct and extensive utility, and may every day become more and more so. And if, in all ages of the world, we have seen this utility called in question by men of sense and discernment, we must ascribe this solely to the errors of its language, the vagueness of its theories, and the unphilosophical character of the great majority of its books and plans of instruction.
The business of promoting and securing health, merits the most serious attention, not only of physicians, but of legislators and the people ; and the place assigned it in every plan of national education should be worthy of the value of its objects. In this important work enough has already been accomplished, to encourage the friends of medical science to continue their efforts for its further advancement. Medicine has undergone many essential improvements, its general character has assumed a more philosophical and practical cast.
Physicians are returning to those forsaken fountains of knowledge, from which Hippocrates and Sydenham drew so largely. They seem to
be aware that our science cannot be benefited by closet speculations, but that experience and observation, under the control of a rigorous logic, are the only genuine sources of useful knowledge.
It is incumbent on those who cultivate medicine, to keep pace with the general progression of human attainments.
Individuals owe this not less to themselves than to the public ; for such is the prevalent competition for medical distinction, so numerous are the competitors, and so ardent the race, that without considerable acquirements and persevering industry, no one can justly rely on winning the prize.
The public too, expect much of physicians, and with reason; knowing, as they do, the superior advantages of the present day. The legislators of Massachusetts especially, men who have done so much for the advancement of medical knowledge, deserve, in the first place, our acknowledgments, and in the second, all the benefits of an improvement of our art correspondent to the patronage and support which they have
A physician's education may be divided into two parts, preparatory and medical.
The value of the preparatory studies and acquirements of the physician have never been duly estimated nor sufficiently attended to in this country; and I presume
the remark is applicable to every other.
Before a young man is permitted to enter on the study of medicine, he should possess a knowledge of languages, writing, the science of numbers, geography, natural history, and natural philosophy
These are essential, and to these should be added, when circumstances will permit, history, government, poetry, drawing, and
every branch of polite literature.
This information will enlarge the physician's intercourse with society, and open to him many new and extensive sources of knowledge. The most important language to the physician is that of the country in which he is to live and do business : and yet from the style in which many of our body write and speak, I should doubt whether this obvious idea had ever been gencrally adopted, or much regarded.
An accurate acquaintance with his native language should be considered, as it is, indispensable to an American physician.
Without this he can neither speak, write, nor read, with propriety; he cannot take a step without betraying the fact that he is not educated. Besides, we all know how much a faulty and inaccurate use of words has retarded the