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Guilds

Medical guilds were organisations of associated traders, which set standards and protected their members from unfair competition. Guilds were the ancestors of today’s professional ‘associations’. Medieval guilds were used by town councils to control all apprenticeship training and legal trading. Women were excluded. Many guilds, including the Italian confraternities, were like trade unions and provided support and medical facilities for their members. Surgeons first allied themselves with the barbers (who were very wealthy). Barber-surgeon guilds emerged strongly in both Paris and London in the early 1300s, dying out in the 1700s. Apothecaries were originally allied with grocers’ guilds, because they both sold spices and edible products. English apothecaries left the Grocer’s Company in 1617 to form their own society.

In the UK, with the 1815 Apothecaries Act, the small Society of Apothecaries suddenly became responsible for regulating all apothecaries to dispense medicine, as well as for surgeons and physicians. The UK 1858 Medical Act finally cut the powers of the old competing guilds. They kept their charters but were put under the control of a General Council of Medical Education and Registration (now known as the General Medical Council).

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Bibliography

 F F Cartwright, A Social History of Medicine (London: Longmans 1977)

R Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (London: Harper Collins, 1997)

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