Behind the Pioneer Role of Jews in Medicine
A 16th-century anecdote relates that Francis I of France, suffering from a lingering illness, asked the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to send him his Jewish physician. When the doctor arrived, the king directed a few barbs at his religious faith. The doctor hastened to point out that he was no longer a Jew, having been converted to the only true faith. Whereupon the indignant king of France immediately dismissed him and asked for a real Jewish physician.
The currency given this story in non-Jewish sources of medical history is testimony to the persistence of the popular image of “the Jewish doctor.” The traditional image has several elements: the Jewish doctor’s prevalence, his unusually large numbers in almost every country, and his excellence, particularly as a specialist. Nor in fact is this image far removed from the reality. It has been estimated that in pre-Nazi Germany Jewish doctors constituted about 30 per cent of their profession, while the Jews as a whole were only one per cent of the population. As for the United States, an informed statistical survey turns up the information that of approximately one hundred thousand physicians, about 12 to 15 per cent are Jews, though Jews constitute something less than 4 per cent of the population. And more than 50 per cent of American psychiatrists and psychoanalysts are Jews. The whole point has only recently been dramatized by the conferring of the 1953 Prize for Medicine on two German-born Jews, Dr. Hans Adolf Kregs, now at Sheffield in England, and Dr. Alfred Lippman, now at Harvard Medical School. And this was by no means the first such occasion in Nobel Prize history.
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