Doctors have long realised that they need to keep up with medical progress or pick each others' brains on how best to manage their patients illnesses. Even in the 17thC when medical practice was largely governed by a dogmatic approach scarcely unchanged since the time of the Roman Empire, physicians frequently consulted each other.
Dr Caleb Perry
With the growth of enlightened medical thinking in the 18th century, medical journals began to appear and some doctors amassed large libraries of medical books and pamphlets which they were willing to lend to their younger colleagues.
There were several physicians in Bath during the 18thC who had impressive collections of books. Some of these eventually ended up in the Bristol University Medical Library including Dr Caleb Parry's collection of medical books and those of Bath surgeon John Soden.
Caleb Parry was also a member of one of the earliest provincial medical societies which included Edward Jenner, the pioneer of smallpox vaccination. This small group of doctors practising in Bath and south Gloucestershire held monthly meetings at the Ship Inn, Alveston and later at the Fleece Inn at Rodborough. They discussed their research findings, followed up with a good dinner before riding home by the light of a full moon.
The Bath branch of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (later the BMA) was inaugurated in 1836. Any medical practitioner within striking distance of Bath could join. By 1837 there were 60 members including the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. In 1841, the Bath and Bristol branches amalgamated. Members read papers and discussed medical issues, for example the payment of fees by Assurance companies requesting medical reports from a proposer's personal medical attendant. Some early papers discussed were A case of suspended animation from drowning, a case of neuralgia, empyema of the lung following lodgement of pistol balls and treatment of diabetes mellitus by yeast.
Bath Medical Book Society & Bath Pathological Society
The Bath Medical Book Society was formed in 1839 by 15 local doctors. Each member subscribed to the society's funds which were used to purchase books. After a time, the books were sold to the highest bidder. In 1845 the membership numbered 20 and in 1860 there were 45
The Bath Pathological Society started in 1845 and was chaired by George Norman, a surgeon at the RUH. Around five clinico-pathological cases were presented at each meeting.
By 1882 the society was known as the Bath Pathological and Clinical Society but so far no records of this society have come to light.
1908 to the present day
The present Bath Clinical Society was formed in 1908 to encourage discussion of case histories by local medical practitioners. One of the founding members was Dr Rupert Waterhouse (1873-1958), whose name became associated with acute haemorrhagic destruction of the adrenal glands known as the Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome.
Dr Waterhouse qualified at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1897 and moved to Bath in1901 where he was appointed physician to the Royal United Hospital and the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases.
In the last 50 years, postgraduate medical education has gained increasing importance and there are now many avenues providing opportunities locally for professional development of doctors at all stages of their careers.
In 1967, GPs and consultants helped finance the building of a postgraduate medical centre at the Royal United Hospital and a further subscription of money in 1974 led to the addition of a tiered lecture theatre. The Bath Clinical Society now focuses on providing a series of lectures on the wider aspects of medicine and its interaction with society, both past and present.