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Victorian Era Doctors, Medical Practitioners

The methods of treatment and the medical accomplishments that were employed during the Victorian era were very different from the methods of treatment and medical accomplishments that were used in the modern era. The background of medical accomplishments of the Victorian era was entirely opposite as compared to the modern era.

The Victorian era, spanning the 19th century, was a period of profound societal, cultural, and scientific changes. One field that witnessed significant evolution was medicine. However, the methods of treatment and medical accomplishments during this time starkly contrast with modern practices.

Medical Hierarchy in the Victorian Era

  1. Physicians: The Elite Practitioners

    • Role and Responsibilities: Unlike today’s general understanding, physicians in the Victorian era did not deal with external injuries or surgeries. Their primary role was to check the pulse and urine of patients, prescribing drugs or “physic” as required.
    • Prestige and Location: Physicians were the elite class of doctors during this period, especially in London. The city offered a dense patient population and opportunities for wealth and social elevation.
    • Licensing and Regulation: To practice in London, obtaining a license from the Royal College of Physicians was essential, reinforcing the exclusivity of this profession.
  2. Surgeons: The Practical Hands

    • Role and Responsibilities: Surgeons were tasked with procedures like surgeries, dealing with fractures, and other treatments that physicians would not perform.
    • Reputation and Titles: Their societal reputation was not as elevated as that of physicians. This disparity can be traced back to their historical association with barbers and the unsavory practice of obtaining corpses for research. Consequently, while physicians were addressed as “Dr.,” surgeons were often referred to as “Mr.”
  3. Apothecaries: The Bridge Between Medicine and People

    • Role and Responsibilities: Initially, apothecaries were responsible for preparing prescription forms for physicians. However, they gradually began offering medical advice in the absence of physicians, making healthcare more accessible to the general population.
    • Position in Society: They were at the bottom of the medical hierarchy, yet played a pivotal role in the grassroots medical care system.

Training and Education

During the Victorian era, the medical education system was vastly different from today. There was an absence of standardized training across medical schools. Some leading voices in the medical community even believed in the supremacy of books and antiques for medical education over practical experience. Though many medical schools existed, their effectiveness and quality of training were often questionable.

Hospitals and Infrastructure

The Victorian era did not have a plethora of hospitals. Those that existed were not always equipped with the best facilities or staff. This scarcity further highlighted the significance of physicians and apothecaries, who often were the primary healthcare providers for many individuals.

Medicine and Public Health during the Victorian Era

The class of doctors that commanded the most prestige in the 1800s was the physicians. They were not concerned with the external injuries, nor did they perform surgeries or set bones. Their work was mainly confined to checking the pulse and urine of the patients. They were called physicians because they only administered drugs or physic.

They were chiefly concerned with giving drugs to the patients that came to them. Physicians comprised a handful of practicing doctors during the Victorian era. A chunk of them was located in London, where it was comparatively easy to find the chunk of the patient population and also the chances of making wealth and social status. To practice as a physician in London, a license from the Royal College of Physicians was required. This was a mandatory requirement.

During the Victorian era, there was no system of training by the medical schools. There were only a handful of hospitals that existed during the Victorian era. Many of the physicians believed that medicine ought to be taught by books and antiques. So even if there existed a large number of medical schools during the Victorian era, they wouldn’t have been successful.

After the physicians, came the surgeons in the medical hierarchy. Their work was to perform surgeries, cut open the chest, deal with fractures, and everything that a physician could not perform. The class of surgeons did not command as much respect from society as the physicians did.

The main reason for the same was that till 1745 they were formally linked with barbers and had to get bodies from the graveyard to learn how to perform surgeries. It was as a result of this difference in status, that the physicians were addressed as Dr. and surgeons as Mr.

The last in the medical hierarchy was the apothecary. They were the lowest class in the medical hierarchy. They were the people who initially made the prescription form for the physicians but in the absence of the physicians, they also used to advise the patients. See also: Victorian Era Diseases Illnesses


The Victorian era’s medical landscape was vastly different from the present. The rigid hierarchy, differing views on medical education, and limited infrastructure posed challenges, yet they laid the groundwork for the transformative changes in medicine in the centuries that followed. Understanding this history allows us to appreciate the advancements and changes that have shaped modern medical practice.


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