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Bedside Teaching and the Acquisition of Practical Skills in Mid-Sixteenth-Century Padua
Abstract

Abstract:

Very little is known to this point about the practical skills which sixteenth-century physicians needed and applied at the bedside and even less about how these skills were taught to students. Drawing on student notebooks and on printed collections of consilia by Padua professors, this paper outlines the different settings in which case-centered and, more specifically, bedside teaching was imparted in mid-sixteenth-century Padua. It describes the range of diagnostic and therapeutic skills that students acquired thanks to this hands-on training at the patient’s bedside, from uroscopy and feeling the pulse to the manual exploration of the patient’s abdomen, which, historians have wrongly believed, physicians performed very rarely or not at all, and surgical skills. Taking a closer look, more specifically, at the role of teaching in the Hospital of San Francesco in Padua, the paper provides evidence that not only Giovanna Battista da Monte but also at least one other mid-sixteenth-century professor, Antonio Fracanzani, made systematic use of the teaching opportunities which the hospital offered. Ultimately, the paper will argue that clinical teaching in the hospital did not differ fundamentally from forms of bedside teaching in the patients’ homes, however. Both became increasingly popular in Padua and elsewhere at the time, reflecting a growing appreciation for the practical and sensory skills which future physicians needed in addition to theoretical learning if they hoped to be successful in the highly contested early modern medical marketplace.