FROM the earliest times physicians have taken the lead in all that relates to the prevention of disease. In times of epidemic their advice is sought by afflicted communities and they have been instrumental in securing most of the legislation which has been enacted with a view to preventing or restricting the prevalence of infectious diseases. As members of boards of health, they are largely responsible for the enactment and execution of proper sanitary legislation, and as medical officers of the Army and Navy, they are charged with the duty of guarding the health of soldiers and sailors enlisted in the service of their country.
While the principal function of a physician engaged in civil practice is to give proper advice and treatment to the sick, he is constantly called upon to point out the most effectual methods of preventing the extension of infectious diseases in the homes of his patients; to indicate the proper diet and mode of life to be followed by convalescents and other members of families which he regularly attends, etc. All this he does cheerfully, although he rarely receives any compensation for advice of this kind and his professional income is diminished in direct proportion to his success in the prevention of disease among the families constituting his clientele.
The compensation for voluntary work in public or domestic sanitation is to be found in the consciousness of good accomplished and of high and humane motives worthy of the profession to which we belong, and the willingness to perform such voluntary service is one of the most noteworthy distinctions between the educated and honorable physician and the ignorant and mercenary quacks who prey upon the community with no other object in view than that of gain. The beneficent results of preventive medicine are seen in the greatly reduced mortality rates in civilized countries generally, and especially in the fact that certain pestilential maladies which formerly prevailed as wide-spread and devastating epidemics, causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings annually, have to a great extent lost their deadly potency as a result of the progress of our knowledge with reference to their etiology and the best methods of combating them.
- Address introductory to the course in preventive medicine, given on January 12, 1903, at the opening of the Washington Post-graduate Medical School.