Medicine through time

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How much did medicine change between 1900 and the present day?

Learning Outcomes:

To identify the extent of change in medical knowledge and practice that took place in between 1900 and the present day.

Starter activity:

Try this activity from the PBS website. In it you see how the role of a doctor has changed in the last 100 or so years.

When considering how much medicine has changed over any period of time you need to think about attitudes towards medicine, treatments, training and approaches to preventing the spread of disease. When you identify things that have changed you then need to think about what has caused the change, or if there is continuity, why that has been the case.


In the table below there are a series of medical conditions. Make a note of how these would have been treated in 1900 and of how they are treated today. If there has been a noticeable change in the type of treatment, identify the factors that led to the change.

Condition Treatment in 1900 Current treatment Factor(s) causing change (where applicable)
Pus filled sore on leg      
Weak, nauseous and itching      
Losing weight despite healthy appetite      
Influenza (Flu)      
Broken Leg      






Summing up the changes


Evaluate the rate of change across the periods by drawing a graph with the dates 1900 to the present day on the x axis and ‘progress’ represented by the y axis. Draw three lines representing: developments in knowledge of the causes of disease; developments in prevention of diseases; developments in the treatment of diseases.

How to do it?

Write the headings

Developments in knowledge of the causes of disease / illness

Developments in prevention of diseases / illness

Developments in the treatment of diseases / illness

Categorise these events under the relevant heading:

Vaccination programmes, Welfare State, NHS doctors, Education packs, Discovery of DNA, Penicillin, Salvarsan 606, MRI scanners, Antibiotics, Key hole surgery, Chemotherapy, Transplants, Prosthetic limbs, Plastic Surgery

Now think about how significant each one is. If it has led to absolutely loads of medical progress, rate it 5. If it has led to just a tiny bit of progress mark it 1 (and 0 for no progress). Now plot the events onto your graph.

Note: the list of events is not exhaustive, feel free to add to it. Likewise the activity above could be expanded to cover other periods of time.






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