Scholars working in the history of medicine are plentiful. Relatively few have focused on the history of medical regulation in the United States.
One the earliest was Richard Harrison Shryock (1893-1972), a former historian at Penn and Duke Universities. Yet even Shyrock’s Medical Licensing in America, 1650-1965 (Johns Hopkins Press, 1967) proves slightly disappointing upon closer inspection. The slim volume–at 120 pages it is really more of an extended monograph–signals its intent to provide nothing more than a useful but high-level overview of the topic.
Similarly, the first third of the book focuses on the colonial and antebellum period when regulatory efforts in medicine were predominantly conducted through medical societies rather than more clearly governmental function characterizing the rebirth of licensing laws after the Civil War.
The strongest sections of the book deal with the development of American medical education in the last quarter of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century. Here Shryock addresses the intertwined nature of medical education reform and improvements with the advent of modern licensing laws.
The period covered by Shryock’s text stops just as medical regulation is moving toward a paradigm shift in the 1960s when discipline (and not simply examining and licensing) became a major focus of state medical board activity. Shryock acknowledges this in his reference to the research conducted by Robert Derbyshire, president of the Federation of State Medical Boards. Derbyshire’s contributions both as a scholar and a leader in medical regulation merit their own blogs so I’ll return to him in the the months ahead.