The Doctors Kimball of Battle Creek : Thirty-six Years of Medical Dedication
Nisbet, Laura L. Versau (1961-1999)
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The professional life of a late nineteenth century physician was not glamorous. It was not always reputable. It was not necessarily lucrative. Yet the field of medicine burgeoned until the United States had more doctors than any other country in the Western world. Accordingly, an increasing number of medical schools opened but the poor quality of their programs and graduates undermined the profession as a whole. Even so, widespread movements towards quality in medical education and licensure of physicians remained more than a decade away. Certification and licensing of medical practitioners was inconsistent until the turn of the century. Until that time, properly trained graduates of medical schools, homeopathic and eclectic healers, quacks, and outright potion hucksters all carried the title of doctor. Little wonder that the medical field was not yet trusted or respected. The limitations of the therapeutic methods at their disposal further damaged the credibility of medical men. This was before the age of antibiotics, sanitary production of food, adequate disposal of waste, and full acceptance of the relationship between micro-organisms and disease. Under those circumstances there was often little that even a well-trained doctor could do for his sick and suffering patients. The few tools he did have included: anesthesia (ether and chloroform), digitalis, quinine (for malaria), and green vegetables and citrus fruits for the prevention of scurvy. The poorly trained practitioner was not aware of these, or if he was, did not know how to use them properly. In spite of the profound limitations in their ability to heal, people continued to turn to doctors for help and comfort. In 1875, the same year Arthur Herbert Kimball embarked on his career, the field of medicine was on the verge of great advances in the treatment and prevention of communicable disease. Battle Creek, Michigan, was home to a number of men of letters and accomplishment. Not least among them were two doctors, father and son, who lived and practiced in Battle Creek from 1883 to 1921. Through their combined efforts they had a great impact on the type and quantity of health care offered to the citizens of their community. Destined to practice medicine for only thirty-six years (28 in Battle Creek) both men achieved a level of prominence and offered a level of service unrelated to the number of years they lived. Through their private practices and public works, the Doctors Kimball left their mark upon the city and its people.