The ultimate history of modern medicine quiz!


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Medicine has truly advanced in the past few hundred years, from a world of bloodletting and mystery "tonics" to one of successes our great-grandparents would have considered miracles. How much do you know about evidence-based medicine and its history? Find out now!

The world's first successful vaccine was for which disease?

Edward Jenner worked off the observation that exposure to cowpox among milkmaids seemed to immunize them against smallpox, a feared and deadly disease. Even before Jenner's work, a bold English farmer performed such an inoculation on his wife and children -- this was during a smallpox outbreak, and desperate times apparently called for a desperate measure.


Which if these drugs was used in antiquity and is still used today?

While all drugs, by definition, have their roots somewhere in nature, opium is the rare drug that can claim to be ancient and is still useful today. Opium is a powerful pain reliever ​but can suppress breathing to dangerous levels, so safer synthetic forms are often used in hospitals.


In modern medicine, what does a homeopath treat?

Homeopathy is not part of evidence-based medicine. To work, it would require the laws of physics to literally work in reverse -- for a substance to get stronger the more it is diluted. In fact, homeopathic solutions are diluted to the point that there is no trace of active ingredient left. Homeopaths say that their products retain the "memory" of the substance because it was shaken in a special way, called "succussion."


Which instrument, used for listening to the heart, was invented in 1817?

The stethoscope is probably a doctor's most recognizable piece of equipment. Fun fact: safecrackers do, at times, use them to listen to the inner workings of locks!


Henry Gray gave his name to a famous book on ________.

First published in 1858, "Gray's Anatomy" is now on its 41st edition. On a related note, the TV show "Grey's Anatomy" seems to be heading for longevity nearly as great.


The Bayer company is best known for which product?

The world associates Bayer with aspirin. On a more controversial note, Bayer also trademarked the name "heroin" and once sold it as a non-addictive substitute for morphine. Um, no.


Why is the term "Western medicine" a misnomer for modern medicine?

Pre-modern medicine looked pretty much the same all over the world: folk traditions, bloodletting, miasma theory, "pray and wait" -- these were shared by Eastern and Western cultures. Time and technological advances, not geography, are what really made a difference to medicine.


The oath that doctors still take is named for ___________.

Hippocrates observed and wrote prolifically about the illnesses and cures of his day. The first part of the Hippocratic Oath is "First do no harm." ("Whatever you do, don't make it worse!")


In the developed world, one of the fastest-growing health threats is ________.

The "diseases of nutritional excess," as obesity-related ailments are called, are increasingly common in wealthy countries like America, Australia and Canada, though ironically, they hit poor people the hardest. People now say, "You used to have to be rich to be fat; now, you have to be rich to be thin."


Alexander Fleming discovered the basis for which medicine?

Fleming, a giant in antibiotic medicine, should also be the patron saint of untidy people. If he'd kept his lab in cleaner order, who knows how long it would have taken for penicillin to be developed!


Which of these figures is known as the "father of modern medicine"?

Both Greek physician Hippocrates and Canadian doctor William Osler are honored with this title. Paracelsus is a divisive figure -- he made important observations about medicine, but his interest in alchemy and mysticism undermines his claim to practicing an early form of evidence-based medicine.


The first woman to practice medicine in the United States was named _______.

Elizabeth Blackwell was awarded her degree in 1849. Rebecca Crumpler is the first black female physician. Born during slavery, she earned her degree in 1864.


In the 19th century, germ theory replaced _______ theory as the prevailing explanation for disease.

Before the advent of microscopes powerful enough to see the microbial world, "miasma" or bad air was a common explanation for disease. This wasn't too far off, as some pathogens actually can be airborne. Miasma theory is also why sickly characters in old novels are sent away to "take the air" in some other more healthful locale.


How did John Snow halt a cholera epidemic in London?

Snow didn't truly understand the cause of cholera, as microbiology wasn't sufficiently advanced by 1854. But he observed a pattern in the location of the cholera cases, interviewed those families about where they got their drinking water, and acted accordingly.


In modern medicine, what does an oncologist treat?

While it doesn't seem like a natural leap from "cancer" to "oncology," the word comes from the Greek "onkos" for "tumor." It entered the English language around 1857.


Microbiologist Robert Koch is best known for his research into which disease?

AIDS and tuberculosis are both infectious (the other two diseases are not), but AIDS came considerably after Koch's time. Koch won a Nobel Prize in 1905 for advancing the understanding of tuberculosis.


Which of these drugs was isolated in 1820 from the bark of the cinchona tree?

Quinine is used to treat malaria, and is on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. It's also what gives tonic water its bitter flavor.


The sphygmomanometer, invented in 1881, is used for what?

This term, which seems unnecessarily long, refers to the entire unit of the cuff, gauge and connecting tubes used to measure blood pressure. The name comes from the Greek sphygmos, for "pulse."


In 1898, Ronald Ross demonstrated that malaria is spread by ________.

Malaria is still a threat to health in much of the developing world, and modern medicine continues to struggle with it. In 2015, Tu Youyou won a Nobel prize for her work on the antimalarial drug artemisin.


The first X-ray for medical purposes was done in ...

William Rontgen is generally credited as discovering "X radiation." Its use in medical imaging followed soon after -- as well as countless ads in the back of comic books offering girl-crazy teenage boys "X-ray specs."


In modern medicine, what does a neurologist treat?

Neurologists treat the nervous system, often the brain. As you can imagine, there's an overlap with psychiatry.


South African doctor Christiaan Barnard was a pioneer in what procedure?

Barnard performed the first human-to-human heart transplant. Unfortunately, without adequate anti-rejection drugs, the patient's immune system attacked the new heart, leading to death in less than three weeks.


Who created the earliest rabies vaccine?

In addition to creating vaccines for rabies and anthrax, Pasteur developed a process for killing bacteria in milk. It bears his name: pasteurization.


For what is warfarin used?

Warfarin, also known as coumadin, prevents blood clots that might cause stroke or deep vein thrombosis. It was previously used as rat poison, something that pharmacists probably avoid mentioning.


Which infectious disease, still a threat in the developing world, was once known as "Roman fever"?

Parts of Rome were swampy or had stagnant water. This was fertile breeding ground for mosquitos, which carry the disease. Before the connection to mosquitoes was known, it was thought the unhealthful air of swamps caused the "Roman fever," which later gave it the name "mala aria" or just "malaria."


Which of these doctors is the namesake of an infectious disease?

Joseph Lister followed up on Louis Pasteur's experiments in germ theory, and was one of the pioneers of sterilization in surgery. For his efforts, "listeriosis" is named for him, as well as the mouthwash Listerine.


Who is credited with creating the idea of residencies and specialties for doctors in training?

William Osler is probably the most important figure in medicine who most people haven't heard of. He brought students out of the lecture hall to train in hospitals, creating the medical residency and the idea of specialties. He was a believer in practice over theory.


Which of these figures modernized nursing?

Nightingale trained nurses and served as a nurse in the Crimean War. A social reformer as well, she helped raise the profile of nursing, making it a field in which women were trained and respected.


Mary Mallon was an asymptomatic carrier of which disease?

"Typhoid Mary" Mallon spread the disease through her work as a cook. She was uncooperative with public health officials and even changed her name in order to return to cooking after being quarantined. Officially, only three people died as a result of eating food she handled, but the number is probably higher.


In 1847, a Hungarian doctor reduced deaths from "childbed fever" with what innovation?

As late as the mid-19th century, the importance of handwashing wasn't widely known. The doctor who proposed handwashing, and reduced mortality via its practice, was named Ignaz Semmelweiss.


Researcher Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for which disease?

Jonas Salk died in 1995. An editorial cartoonist honored him at the time of his death by showing a child dropping his crutches and stepping into a crosswalk. The lighted sign at the opposite side of the crosswalk, instead of "Walk," read "Salk."


Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in which medicine?

Aspirin is one of the world's most popular medicines; about 40 tons are consumed a year around the world. However, one side effect of excessive use is stomach bleeding, which is why acetaminophen is a common alternative.


Which of these diseases was unknown in 1970?

Hepatitis C was identified in the 1970s, and first called "non-A, non-B" hepatitis, but its virus was not isolated until the late 1980s. The first known outbreak of ebola occurred in Africa in 1976.


Dr. David Ho was TIME's 1996 Man of the Year for his research into which disease?

David Ho, a Taiwanese-born researcher, was far from a household name. However, his more than 400 research papers helped the medical world understand HIV infection -- and more important, how it might be treated.


Approximately how many people worldwide died in the 1918 flu pandemic?

While we tend to think of the "flu" as a hassle, requiring a few days off work, in 1918 it could have killed nearly 100 million people around the globe. Fatalities might have dropped off only because the flu mutated to a less-aggressive strain, though the exact reason is still not known.


How many Americans were vaccinated against the flu in the 2015-16 season?

Sure there's a vaccine -- and public education has steadily been increasing the number of people who get it. This is good news because while few healthy adults die of the flu, they can spread it to an elderly or immunosuppressed person to whom it could be fatal.


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