The ancient Egyptians had the earliest examples of the holistic health practitioner. They treated the whole person, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Many of the medicinal herbs we use today were first used by the ancient Egyptians and our knowledge of anatomy was handed down to us by these ancient healers from their experience with mummification.
The Egyptians started practicing medicine very early, around 4000 BC. Evidence from this time suggests that the green eye paint, malachite, was used to prevent a certain parasitic eye disease. The Egyptians are credited for being one of the first civilizations to have practicing physicians, the earliest one being Imhotep, a great healer.
Doctors and some priests were taught medicine through years of training at the temples. Egyptian medical practitioners knew a lot about the human body, even though there were no medical schools as now commonly known. Their knowledge came primarily through the process of mummification, in which they removed and examined different parts of the body after death. Those internal organs were often placed in what is known as the canopic jars. They knew about the various fluids of the brain, the exact location of the heart, and that the arteries were hollow and that blood circulated throughout the body. They also performed a number of surgical operations, as evidenced by discoveries of some skeletons.
The Egyptian physicians were also excellent observers and they knew the importance of listening to their patients. Generally, the most important fields of medicine were caring for women and children and treating sterile patients. Tests were performed on women to check their ability to become pregnant or to determine the sex of the fetus. Doctors also invented many methods to facilitate difficult deliveries. Those methods were passed down through generations, as a medical manuscript from the sixteenth century BC recorded 11 methods of delivery.
Gastroenteritis, stomachaches, coughs, toothaches and eye diseases were common in Egypt. Physicians used natural materials for most treatments. Physicians were able to count the heartbeats using the water clock. The practice of medicine in Egypt flourished in the fourth century BC.
The main sources of knowledge of ancient Egyptian medicine are papyri dating back to the Pharaonic age. Some of the most famous are from Smith and Ebers, named after their discoverers and interpreters. They contain pathological cases, surgical procedures, and prescriptions to treat many diseases and wounds, mostly dependent on natural materials, but also including magical spells dating back to the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties. These papyri appear to be copies of earlier texts.
Medicine was not separated from magic and religious rituals in ancient Egypt. Therapy through drugs and medications was used along with spells and charms in treating patients. The priests waved sticks around while reciting their spells on patients to send away the evil powers. Magical vessels with spells written on them were used to soak medications prescribed by the doctor. Medicine remained connected to priesthood until the end of the Roman era in Egypt.
The study of anatomy in Egypt reached its peak in the Greek era as two senior physicians, Herovel and Erasystran, came to Alexandria to gain a detailed knowledge of the anatomy of the human body to be able to treat all pathological cases. Physicians from all over the world came to Alexandria to be trained in anatomy.
During the Islamic reign, Arab medicine reached a high status. Their wide knowledge of chemistry and different kinds of plants was the main reason behind a leap in understanding witnessed by medicine in that period. Many books from this period describe mineral, plant, and animal compounds and preparations, as well as single and compound medications.
Medicine continued to advance through accurate clinical observations of patients, descriptions of the pathological relations of diseases, scientific teaching methods, and concern for public health and hospital improvement. The invention of the hospital was one of the greatest achievements in Islamic medicine. Its mission was the treatment of all people who came to it, regardless of their status.
In that period when Arab civilization flourished, many of the famous physicians emerged, like Abu Bakr Al-Razi, who selected the site for a hospital based on the testing of germs in that area, Abu Ali al-Hussain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina, Abu Al-Kasem Al-Zahrawy, and Ibn Al-Nafees. The latter discovered the minor blood circulatory system for the first time in the history of medicine.