Barber surgeon

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File:F A Maulbertsch Quacksalber.jpg
Franz Anton Maulbertsch's The Quack (c. 1785) shows barber surgeons at work.

The barber surgeon was one of the most common medical practitioners of medieval Europe - generally charged with looking after soldiers during or after a battle. In this era, surgery was not generally conducted by physicians, but by barbers.

They often took up residence in castles where they also provided medical assistance to the rich and wealthy.

Barber surgeons in the United Kingdom

Formal recognition of their skills (in England at least) goes back to 1540, when the Fellowship of Surgeons (who existed as a distinct profession, but still not "Doctors/Physicians" as we think of them today) merged with the Company of Barbers to form the Company of Barber-Surgeons. However, the trade was gradually put under pressure by the medical profession and in 1745, the surgeons split from the barbers to form the Company of Surgeons. In 1800 a Royal Charter was granted and the Royal College of Surgeons in London came into being (later it was re-named to cover all of England--equivalent Colleges exist for Scotland and Ireland as well as many of the old UK colonies).

The last vestige of barber-surgeons' links with the medical side of their profession is probably the traditional red and white barber's pole which is said to represent the blood and bandages associated with their older role. Another link is the UK's use of the title Mr. rather than Dr. for consultants and registrars in surgery (when awarded an MRCS or FRCS diploma). This dates back to the days when surgeons gained a RCS diploma rather than a University Doctoral Degree. Even though all surgeons now have to gain a basic medical degree and doctorate (as well as undergoing several more years training in surgery), they still retain their link with the past.

de:Bader sv:Fältskär