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The Socialized Physician

ISSUE:  Summer 1941

Medicine and Human Welfare, By Henry E. Sigerist. Yale University Press $2.50.

In this group of three essays, called “Medicine and Human Welfare,” Henry E. Sigerist has attempted the historical approach to a problem that has heretofore largely received only contemporary or near-contemporary treatment: namely, the greatly vexed problem of the physician in his relationship to modern social trends. No one now writing is better qualified for this approach than Dr. Sigerist. Besides the true scholar’s knowledge of the sources in his field that is reflected in the current work, he brings to the task another important qualification. He has intimately known, as student and teacher, the practice of medicine in four European countries as well as in the United States.

The most important historical basis for the author’s conclusions appears to be the gradually increasing and legitimate interest of the organized community in the health of its people, which he traces from the period of the modifying influences of Christianity through the Enlightenment and the Industrial Era. The physician, he concludes, is so essential a part of the social fabric that he must necessarily discard the traditions of competitive practice and become “the social physician protecting the people and guiding them to a healthier and happier life.” “I am convinced,” he says further, “that medicine . . . will ultimately become a public service in every civilized country.”

These are brave words in the present ad hominem controversy, and Dr. Sigerist will doubtless be castigated for them. He will be labeled a foreigner untuned to the ruggedness of the American point of view. And yet to the reasonable man, physician or layman, the historical approach is refreshing and the conclusions are logical. Modern social problems are the continuum of history and history is international. Those who cling to the older traditions of medical practice may come to an awakening brought about by a major trend of human thought unconcerned with the form of the particular political machinery that may effect it.

Dr. Sigerist has summarized the complex relationships of the physician to all aspects of life in a remarkably complete way; his summary may be enlightening to a part of the lay world and to at least one physician it is entirely satisfactory. The style is undistinguished; but, as in all his works published in this country, the smooth employment of the English idiom gives evidence of the author’s rare linguistic versatility.


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