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Islamic hospitals

Islamic hospitals were sites of medical education from their establishment in the 900s CE. The most famous hospitals, including those in Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, contained lecture rooms, pharmacies and libraries. As important as reading and mastering texts was to instruction in the Islamic tradition, many students received practical training in hospitals. Some even observed patients at the bedside.

Many famous Islamic physicians took students onto hospital wards. Surviving texts, such as that produced by Ibn Abi Usaybi‘ah in his book ’Uyun, and some student notes, reveal details of these early clinical rounds. Many contain instructions on diets and recipes for common treatments, including skin diseases, tumours and fevers. Some even suggest that students examined patients and made diagnoses. Most students were guided by their teachers in making observations. During such rounds, they were told to examine the patients’ actions, excreta, and the nature and location of pain, as well as swelling. Students were also instructed to note the colour and feel of the skin, whether hot, cool, moist, dry or loose. At Cairo advanced students undertook examinations and even carried out simple medical procedures, such as venesection. Al-Razi gained much experience at the hospital he attended in Baghdad and encouraged other medical students to enter hospitals. Most practitioners, however, entered practice soon after completing their training without ever having treated a patient.

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P Horden, 'The Earliest Hospitals in Byzantium, Western Europe, and Islam' Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 35/3 (2005), pp 361-389

F A Hussain, The History and Impact of the Muslim Hospital (Council for Scientific and Medical History, 2009)