Western medicine advanced very little in Europe during the Middle Ages. Scholarship fell into the religious sphere, and clerics were more interested in curing the soul than the body. Many theologians considered disease and injury to be the result of supernatural intervention and insisted that cures were only possible through prayer. No new medical research was conducted, and no new practices were created. Physicians simply perpetuated the church-approved classical techniques developed by Galen and others that were preserved in ornately decorated, hand-copied texts produced by monks. Christian concern for the ill and injured, as well as contact with the Arab world during the crusades, did, however, lead to the creation of many large hospitals built and run by monastic orders. Although little was done to cure the patients, they were usually well fed and comforted by a religious nursing staff.
Although medicine and surgery were related, medieval practitioners drew a distinct line between them. Generally, physicians treated problems inside the body, and surgeons dealt with wounds, fractures, dislocations, urinary problems, amputations, skin diseases, and syphilis. They also bled patients when directed by physicians. Many of today's surgeons can trace the origins of their specialties to the teeth-pullers, bone-setters, oculists, and midwives of the middle ages.
During this period, medicine began to be recognized as a profession
based upon formal education, standardized curriculum, and legal regulation.
In some regions, physicians were required to pass examinations before beginning
practice. Untrained physicians were subject to prosecution and fines,
and state licensing became common. Still, not all healers were priests
or scholars. Women practitioners commonly treated female patients,
and although scorned by the educated physicians, uneducated surgeons and
self-taught lay doctors, or "leeches", were permitted to work on both men
If you would like to learn more about medieval medicine, the Karolinska
Institute has many interesting links.