Many American cities maintain dispensaries and hospitals for the poor. Whether they will go to the logical conclusion of engaging physicians to give free treatment to all regardless of income depends largely upon what the next generation of private physicians do. The state already says when a physician's training fits him to practice. It will soon expect him to pass rigid examinations in the social and economic aspects of his profession,—its educational opportunity, vital statistics, sick and death rates. Will it need to municipalize him in order to protect itself?
Obviously the teacher or parent should not begin cooperation with physicians by lecturing them or by assuming that they are selfish and unwilling to teach. The best first step is to ask questions that they should be able to answer:
What causes cholera morbus or summer complaint? When does milk harm the baby? How can unclean milk be made safe? Whose fault is it that the milk is sold unclean and too warm? What agencies help sick babies? What is the health board doing to teach mothers?
Or, if a school physician, the teacher can ask:
Why not remove these adenoids? What causes them? When will they disappear by absorption? What harm can they do in the meantime? How long would an operation take? Would it hurt very much? What would be the immediate effects? Why not act at once? What provisions are there in town for such operations? Why have the physicians paid so little attention to breathing troubles? What could your state do to interest physicians in school hygiene? Will the school physician talk to a mothers' meeting? What agencies will give outings to sick children? What dispensaries are accessible? Who is the proper person to organize a public health league?
Physicians love to teach. If teachers and parents will love to learn and will ask the right questions, all physicians can be converted into hygiene missionaries, heralds of a statesmanship that guarantees health rights to all.
Three parties are interested in setting a high standard for physicians, dentists, druggists, nurses, and veterinary surgeons—the profession itself, the schools that educate, and the general public on whom the arts are practiced. The schools and the practitioners are, for the most part, primarily interested in protecting a monopoly of skill. Their interest in restrictive legislation is analogous to that of the labor union which limits the number of apprentices. This trade unionism among professional colleges and professional graduates of these colleges has gradually developed a higher and higher standard that results in greater protection to the public. The first step is generally to demand that all persons entering a profession after a given date shall prove to the state their ability to "practice" without injury to clients. It is almost impossible to get such laws through unless the original law exempts all persons by whatever name, who are practicing the art in question at the time the law is passed. Whether we are speaking of medicine, law, dentistry, accountancy, osteopathy, or barbering, this has been the history of compulsory restriction and of state examinations.
As with regard to most other legislation, the enforcement of the law lags behind its definition. Moreover nothing is done after a man has passed a certain examination to see that he remains fit and safe to treat the public. Because no supervision is provided except on the day of examination, it is possible for men and women to fill their brains for a week or two weeks with the information necessary to pass what coaches and tutors have learned will, in all probability, be asked. Forever after, the public is left to protect itself. Out of this condition have arisen the evil, unethical, and unprofessional practices represented particularly by painless dentists, by ignorant or dishonest physicians, and by osteopaths and careless nurses.
The machinery for preventing these evils is discussed in Chapter XXIX. Suffice it here to present to parents and teachers the need for examination in advance of certification that will show whether or not those who make a livelihood by caring for others' health are equipped to mitigate rather than aggravate evils, and for further tests by which the public can learn from time to time which, among those professional men who are protected by the public against competition, continue to be safe. Finally, if, as will be clearly seen, it is desirable that what we call professional ethics persist and that self-advertisement be discouraged, society must, for its own protection, adopt some other means than epithets to correct the evils of self-advertisement and quackery. Even though we admit the responsibility of each citizen when he goes to the house of a private practitioner who has made no other effort to lure him thither than to place a card in the window, it must be seen that we cannot hold responsible for their choice men and women who receive through newspapers, magazines, or circulars convincing notices that Dr. So-and-So or the Integrity Company or the Peerless Dental Parlor will place at their disposal, at prices within their reach, skill and devotion absolutely beyond their reach at the office of an efficient private practitioner. Some way must be found by which departments of health will currently impose tests of methods and results upon physicians, opticians, pharmacists, manufacturers of medicine, and dentists.
As laymen become more intelligent regarding their own bodies and healthy living, it grows harder and harder for quacks and incompetents to mislead and exploit them. Better than any possible outside safeguard is hygienic living. Fortunately, we can all learn the simple tests of environment and of living necessary to the selection of physicians, dentists, and opticians, or other "architects of health" whose efficiency and integrity are beyond question.