History of Compensation and Wages - Physicians and Barber Surgeons

Compensation Data Facts - What's What in Compensation

History of compensation... Ancient authors such as Plato and Aristotle debated whether physicians should be paid at all. There was disagreement whether medicine was an art or a "techne" (skill, craft) and if physicians practiced medicine because they love humanity, or because they love honour, or because they love money.

During the Middle Ages, the Barber Surgeon was one of the most common medical practitioners, generally charged with providing haircuts and shaves as well as surgeries, teeth extractions, leeching, bloodletting and even embalming. Physicians, who received a university education, often considered surgery beneath them so it was the barber surgeons, trained in the use of a sharp blade, that performed surgery. Often illiterate, the inferior status of barber surgeons resulted in compensation and wages substantially less than their intellectual physician counterparts.

In the late 1700s, studying to be a physician in the United States was considered a second choice and offered half the salary and status of clergymen. During the age of house calls, doctors made time-consuming trips each day on foot to treat patients. Barter was often the primary form of compensation in addition to small fees ($0.50 for a visit, $2.00 for setting bones). There were less than a dozen communities in New England where Physicians could earn a full-time living and doctors often worked second jobs in order to supplement their income.

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