From the Archives: Raising the Bar

The 1st Board of Medical Examiners: 1889

1st state medical board 1889In 1881, Dr. C. H. Merrick, chairman of the Oregon State Medical Society's committee on the practice of medicine, informed the Society that there needed to be laws to regulate the practice of medicine and surgery in the state. In his report he asked, "Why should Oregon be almost the last state in the Union to move in this important matter? Why should we suffer our state to become the depository for nearly all the ignorant quacks and pretenders who have been driven out of other states by their vigorous laws? We find our state flooded with druggists' clerks, botch dentists and horse torturers who have come here and assumed the title of Doctor and in many instances unblushingly added M.D. to their names."

After years of work towards the goal of regulation, OSMS submitted a proposal to the legislature, which finally became law in 1889. The regulatory act allowed the governor to appoint a State Board of Medical Examiners. The act also provided that every person practicing medicine in the state would be required to present a diploma to the Board granted it was from "any legally chartered medical institution in good standing". Those who could not provide a diploma had to submit to an examination. Doctors were given 90 days to comply and those who met all of the criteria were then given a state license to practice medicine.

By 1891, many members of the OSMS still had not complied with the demands of the law and were warned that if they did not do so immediately, they would receive a penalty and their names would be registered with the prosecuting attorney. Even the Medical Sentinel joined in the battle in a series of editorials, calling Oregon "the dumping ground for physicians who had failed to obtain licenses in other states."

The 1st Board had high hopes of bettering the situation in Oregon but the law served to stirr up many controversies: arguments ensued over the lack of adequate power held by the Board, the low standard of medical education in Oregon and the weakness of the law itself. By 1894 a new Board was appointed and in 1895 a more authoritative law was passed.

This was not the end of the story; battles were yet to be waged to oust the hucksters and quacks from Oregon and to improve the standard of medical education. Oregon had taken steps in the right direction and regardless of the rough start, the situation was much improved over the period prior to 1895.

Pictured (From left): Drs. James Dixon., James Brown, O.P.S. Plummer