As the medical professions developed, doctors and surgeons arose from different traditions and had their separate practices. Doctors were educated, they studied physiology and philosophy, and they developed theories on disease and medicines. Surgeons, who were also barbers, studied under other barber-surgeons as apprentices, and cut hair, shaved beards, pulled teeth, drained abscesses, amputated limbs, and generally altered your body for you as needed.
Still, you can almost see the appeal, right? While the pretentious, aloof physician was off hanging out in some noble family’s castle, developing harebrained theories on which of the four humors causes gout, you could go see a possibly illiterate barber-surgeon — someone nonetheless able, with hands-on anatomical know-how, to pop your shoulder back into its socket for a minor fee. With the healthcare system being what it is in the United States, this sounds way better than a trip to the emergency room. Just head down the block and look for a barber pole, the white and red of which suggests the blood and bandages of the barber-surgeon’s profession, and ask them to stitch you up. Hell, you could get your mustache and sideburns styled, too. You’ve earned it!
In fact, there is some indications of a return to barbers and hairdressers as limited medical practitioners, as they are already intimate with their clients’ bodies and are far less expensive than doctors. Read about barber-surgeons at Mel magazine.
(Image credit: Wellcome Images)