Plague Doctors were employed by medieval towns and cities when their when there were plague outbreaks
Plague Doctors were in very high demand during times of plague epidemics and probably one of the worst times to be a plague doctor was during the 14th century epidemic which is described as being the worst ever in human history
Plague Doctors could be described as specialist Doctors although in reality they weren't really doctors at all as they had no formal training and had little to no success in treating victims of the plague.
See images and facts about a 'Plague Doctor Costume' including Mask, Hat, Boots and Cane! Read more about the Plague Doctor Costume >>
Blood-Letting was a fairly common procedure used by a Plague Doctor in the Middle Ages Read more about the Plague Doctor Methods >>
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A plague doctor was a ‘Specialist’ Doctor who focused on the ‘Bubonic Plague‘.
Plague Doctors started to be employed by medieval towns and cities around the 14th century on a flexible basis.
A plague doctor would solely treat victims of the ‘Bubonic Plague’ Whereas medieval cities and towns often had a full time ‘general practitioners’ as well, that could be based in the town.
Plague doctors were often there just to keep ‘public records’ of deaths in towns and cities due to the plague.
Plague doctors had no formal training, typically they were self taught, there was no school or college where you could train to be a ‘Plague Doctor’.
They were often people who could not make it as a ‘general practitioner’ or ‘surgeon’ and people from literally any background could become a plague doctor.
With this kind of training and background it was no surprise that some medieval people considered them to be nothing more than ‘Charlatans’, basically ‘con-men’.
In fairness the ‘Plague’ was a near impossible disease to cure in medieval times, however ‘plague’ doctors were pretty hopeless, rarely cured anyone, and were often just present to keep a records of the number of deaths.
Plague doctors had no formal training and if any of their methods did work it was probably down to sheer luck.
The method that plague doctors used most often was ‘bloodletting’ this involved placing leeches and sometimes frogs on the buboes (swollen inflamed lymph node in the armpit or groin) to try and ‘re-balance the humors’.
They also used other things such as onions and chopped up snakes.
Plague doctors had to be very careful not to spread the disease and could also put into quarantine!
Plague doctors wore costumes that look somewhat bizarre including a long black cloak and a beak shaped mask
In later centuries they would a beak-like mask that was filled with aromatic herbs designed to protect them from the ‘Putrid Air’ – which according to some theories was how the plague spread.
Plague doctors started to work for medieval towns and cities in the 14th century and were classed as ‘public servants’ – employed as and when required.
Plague Doctors worked on a kind of self employed ad-hoc basis in that medieval towns and cities requested their help in times of an outbreak or epidemic of the ‘Black Plague’ and they were specifically hired when the plague had taken hold of a town or city.
Plague doctors were employed on a ad-hoc basis by the medieval town and city councils and therefore were considered to be ‘municipal’ or ‘community workers’
They must have earned enough money to make it worth while as they were taking a huge risk mixing with people carrying the ‘Bubonic Plague and other diseases.
However some plague doctors would sell their own ‘cures’, ‘concoctions’ and sell them to the ill and dying, presumably this was fairly lucrative as people would have been desperate for a cure, and there was no known cure at that time.
Finally some plague doctors across Europe actually carried out ‘autopsies’ to discover the cause of death and to investigate causes of the plague.
Plague doctors were also increasingly asked to ‘witnesses wills’ in times of a plague epidemic.
Plague doctors could also advise victims of the plague and their families about how they should conduct themselves before and after a relative had died.
A plague doctor was a specialist Doctor was only concerned with the ‘Bubonic Plague’ exclusively – they were part time doctors who had no formal training and relied on unproven methods of treatment.
Plague Doctors had a very low success rate and were considered to be just ‘Charlatans’ by some medieval people.
They were employed directly by towns and cities and were paid by them and because of this they treated everybody, rich or poor within that town or city.