Medicine and Disease


When did modern surgery begin?

Modern surgical techniques were developed during the late Renaissance, largely owing to the work of one man, French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–1590), called the “father of modern surgery.” Prior to Paré’s lifework, physicians had regarded surgery as something lowly. They left this “dirty work” to barber-surgeons. As a young man living in the French countryside, Paré became apprenticed to one such barber-surgeon. When he was only 19 years old, Paré entered Paris’s Hotel Dieu hospital to study surgery. Becoming a master surgeon by 1536, he later served as an army surgeon and then as physician to four sixteenth-century French kings—Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. Paré also built a flourishing surgical practice and authored works on anatomy, surgery, the plague, obstetrics, and the treatment of wounds. Opposing the common practice of cauterizing (burning) wounds with boiling oil to prevent infection, he introduced the method of applying a mild ointment and allowing the wound to heal naturally. Paré was renowned for his patient care, which he based on his personal credo, “I dressed him, God cured him.”


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