Parts of the Whole: The History of Viewing Diseases by Organ and Medical Specialization

HPSC-X123 — Spring 2021

Elana Rakoff
Course Description

How does one become a hematopathologist? A pediatric ophthalmologist? A nephro-nocturnist? Why do these specialties exist, and does medical specialization ultimately help or hinder the patient? This introductory-level medical history course surveys the development and evolution of several major medical specialties, including ophthalmology, cardiology, pulmonology and dermatology. It covers long-running controversies over whether specialization leads to a fractured view of a patient’s health, and how complex diseases affecting multiple organs (such as Covid-19) have been perceived differently depending on physicians’ backgrounds. It provides context for why scientific, economic and social incentives for specialization have intensified in America in particular since World War II, and raises the question of whether such specialization is better or worse for medical practice as a whole.