The Art of Medicine

Following his graduation from Edinburgh in 1705, Cadwallader Colden had to make a career choice and follow-up on this vocation.  His options were to remain in Edinburgh or attend any of  the other three universities in Scotland at the time.  If he were engaged in such a practice, he would have attended either a program in Law, Theology or Medicine.  But universities in Scotland weren’t his only option.  Colden also had the option of attending any of the numerous universities located nearby in England or mainland Western Europe.  Any one of these options  meant that he would have again engaged in the standard didactic training methodology, with numerous laboratory or practice options available on the side for his field of study.

The following schools were operating at the time in this part of Europe (Wells, 1706, pp. 158-163).

The Apprenticeship

For some reason, Cadwallader Colden and/or his father Alexander opted to have Cadwallader learn medicine by way of an apprenticeship.  It is possible that cost was a major issue for Cadwallader’s training.  But it is also possible that Alexander Colden was referred to a particular physician in London, someone he met or an associate of a friend he was visiting during one of his trips into this city.

At the time Cadwallader initiated this apprenticeship (1705 or 1706), he had three options.  There were just two teaching hospitals set up, several university programs, and numerous opportunities within the office setting as an apprentice.  Each of which would provide him with the credential he needed for licensure to practice.  Such a setting provided Cadwallader with different opportunities than the university or teaching hospital-directed program.  His clinical experience may have not always been the best, but it was certainly eclectic and in some ways more rewarding and applicable to his future years due to the variety of rich and poor patients that he probably interacted, within and away from the clinic.

Traditional apprenticeships took 5 to 7 years, with 6 years often being the standard.  But many of these 6 year apprenticeship contracts from which this estimate was obtained were for non-professional work settings, such as housemaid, tailoring, or cobbler-related work.  New York documents indicate the Colden may have removed to Philadelphia as early as 1710, which would suggest a four to five year apprenticeship contract, such as from 1706 to 1709 or 1710 inclusively.

To best understand what the art of medicine consisted of, a review was performed of journals and book published during his apprenticeship years (1705-1709 approximately).  The following items provide us with examples of the state of medicine at this time.  These items also provide us with valuable insights into the philosophy of medicine, and how a physician’s philosophy fit in with the other realms of natural philosophy thinking for the time.  Many of these references fit in quite nicely with Colden’s professional and personal behaviors and attitudes.  Whether or not Cadwallader read all of these references is uncertain of course, but not really neccessary for this review of his life and philosophy.  Cadwallader Colden was not the only individual questioning the recent discoveries in science, and trying to determine whether or not medicine was an art or science (a centuries old question about this profession in fact, in both directions temporally).