Licensed to Practice: The Supreme Court Defines the American Medical Profession

Licensed to Practice: The Supreme Court Defines the American Medical Profession

by James C. Mohr


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Licensed to Practice begins with an 1891 shooting in Wheeling, West Virginia, that left one doctor dead and another on trial for his life. Formerly close friends, the doctors had fallen out over the issue of medical licensing. Historian James C. Mohr calls the murder "a sorry personal consequence of the far larger and historically significant battle among West Virginia’s physicians over the future of their profession."

Through most of the nineteenth century, anyone could call themselves a doctor and could practice medicine on whatever basis they wished. But an 1889 U.S. Supreme Court case, Dent v. West Virginia, effectively transformed medical practice from an unregulated occupation to a legally recognized profession. The political and legal battles that led up to the decision were unusually bitter—especially among physicians themselves—and the outcome was far from a foregone conclusion.

So-called Regular physicians wanted to impose their own standards on the wide-open medical marketplace in which they and such non-Regulars as Thomsonians, Botanics, Hydropaths, Homeopaths, and Eclectics competed. The Regulars achieved their goal by persuading the state legislature to make it a crime for anyone to practice without a license from the Board of Health, which they controlled. When the high court approved that arrangement—despite constitutional challenges—the licensing precedents established in West Virginia became the bedrock on which the modern American medical structure was built. And those precedents would have profound implications. Thus does Dent, a little-known Supreme Court case, influence how Americans receive health care more than a hundred years after the fact.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421411422
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 11/15/2013
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

James C. Mohr is the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History and the Philip H. Knight Professor of Social Science at the University of Oregon. He is author of Doctors and the Law: Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America and Radical Republicans in the North: State Politics during Reconstruction, both published by Johns Hopkins.

Table of Contents

Part One: Background
1. Medical Regulation in the United States through the Civil War
Part Two: The Medical Society of West Virginia
2. Dr. Reeves and the Founding
3. Building the "True Church"
4. Challenges from Within
Part Three: The Board of Health
5. Securing Legislation
6. Exercising Power
7. The Dents Confront the Board
Part Four: The Courts
8. The West Virginia State Supreme Court
9. Conflict and Enforcement
10. The United States Supreme Court
11. American Medical Practice after Dent

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Licensed to Practice: The Supreme Court Defines the American Medical Profession 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Educational and enjoyable, a great combination. Well researched yet the story still flows. Great for those interested in legal history, medical history and post civil war history buffs. Also helps put the current state of medicine in perspective.