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The doctor's bag in 1923

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics October 2023
Volume 100
Issue 10

Many of the popular tools of the physicians of the past have gone out of fashion (others haven’t) but they live on as symbols of the doctor.

Check out the doctor's bag of 2023.

1. Silver Otoscope with ear pieces

Physicians have used otoscopes to peer into patient ears since the 14th century. The kinds used by physicians in the 1920s were often made of silver, and came accompanied by various pieces in velvet-lined boxes.

2. Glass multiple use syringe with needle

Glass syringes were used to inject drugs into patients starting in the 1850s. It’s commonly believed that morphine was the first drug used in an injection.

3. Red medical reflex hammer

Physicians have been tapping on patient knees since the late 19th century to help diagnose various nervous system and muscular disorders. Something every patient remembers, and still being used today.

4. Black medical bag

The doctor’s black bag is one of the great symbols of medicine, alongside the stethoscope. Physicians have been carrying medical bags as long as they have been around; the first mention was in the Hippocratic Corpus in 350 B.C. The kind doctors used in the early 20th century were typically made of stiff leather and able to open widely.

5. Doctor Head Mirror

Say “ahh!” Doctors have used head mirrors to examine the larynx since the 19th century. They are still used by otolaryngologists, but other doctors typically prefer a pen light these days.

6. Memo Book

Doctors have always taken copious records of their patient encounters. But in the days before EHRs these took the form of physician memo books or diaries, with enough ruled pages for all their records. The first issue of Medical Economics included an advertisement for Lehn & Fink’s Physician’s Diary, boasting of “ruled pages for monthly records.” The price? $1, paid on delivery.

7. Medical glass thermometer

Physicians have always considered fever a classic sign of illness, and mercury-in-glass thermometers were widely used in the early 20th century. They are out of fashion now and considered dangerous, but every patient of a certain age remembers biting down on one of these in the doctor’s office (just not too hard).