This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 42, number 3/4 (2019). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Editor’s Note: In his book, Jesus Skeptic: A Journalist Explores the Credibility and Impact of Christianity (Baker Books, 2019), John S. Dickerson explores how Christianity spawned and perpetuated Western Civilization, including how followers of Jesus created the university and college systems, created literacy through public education, founded modern science, began the fight for women’s rights, ended open slavery and continue to drive racial reconciliation, fighting for justice and progress in a multitude of arenas. The following is adapted from Jesus Skeptic, displaying the unquestionable impact Christians have had on the field of modern medicine.
The Primary Evidence reveals that the seeds that produced the modern hospital and modern medicine were planted by devout Christians who were motivated by their sincere Christian beliefs. The Primary Evidence also reveals that many of the best-ranked hospitals today were founded by Christian pastors, ministers, nuns, doctors, or priests as houses of charity. The majority were enabled by Christian donations and were staffed by doctors who had trained at Christian universities.
It is a fact of medical history that today’s medical advances originated from these Christian-founded institutions. It is also a fact that the knowledge and discoveries from Christian-founded institutions have now been freely shared and spread to other parts of the world. As a result, in the last 100 years there has been a global adoption of these medical advances, thus planting the seeds for continued medical innovation around the world.
THREE PRIMARY SEEDS IN AMERICAN MEDICINE
Of the three oldest hospitals in the United States (each of which remains in the top twenty today), all three were started by overtly Christian organizations for Christian purposes of charity.
These hospitals began as Christian charities because, back in the 1800s, there were no hospitals as we know them today. The best (and most expensive) doctors only made house calls, which meant that only rich people could afford to see a doctor. The poor had to go without doctors. And so Christians — motivated by Christ’s teaching to “care for the least of these” — began building hospitals where the poor could receive the medical care they could not afford. This was the birth of today’s hospital.
For example, Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital was instigated by John Bartlett, a Christian pastor who served as chaplain for a charity to the poor in Boston known as the Almshouse. Like Catholic nun Mother Moes at the Mayo Clinic, it was Reverend Bartlett who cast the vision to a group of doctors to begin practicing in one place so that they could care for many impoverished people in one place.
Christian pastors cast the vision for these hospitals. Christian donors supported these hospitals, providing the bricks and beds. And Christian universities provided the medical faculty and first doctors for these hospitals. The three oldest hospitals in the United States were each started by Christians, and each remains a leader in the innovation of modern healthcare practices:
- Pennsylvania Hospital — founded in 1751 by Quaker Christian Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin, ranked number fourteen in the nation today.
- New York–Presbyterian Hospital — founded in 1771 by Episcopal Christian Samuel Bard; ranked number ten in the nation today. (Note: Founder Samuel Bard established an Episcopal church even while he led some of the earliest medical schools in the history of the United States.)
- Massachusetts General Hospital — founded in 1811 by Rev. John Bartlett, who was motivated by Christian charity for the poor; ranked number four in the nation today.
The conclusion for any honest investigator is clear. If you have a deadly medical condition, you want to be in a hospital that was founded by Christians or Christian-trained doctors. The Primary Evidence reveals an overwhelming Christian presence in the founding of the modern hospital and modern medicine as we know them today, and these Christian hospitals gave birth to the modern hospitals and medicine we enjoy today.
John S. Dickerson is an award-winning journalist, a millennial, and a bestselling author. His writing has appeared in the New York Times and USA Today. Tom Brokaw (NBC News) and Christiane Amanpour (CNN and ABC News) have named him winner of the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Jesus Skeptic is available via equip.org.