From yellow fever epidemics to making house calls by horse and buggy, early Gainesville physicians faced plenty of challenges.
Mark Barrow, M.D., a College of Medicine alumnus from the class of 1960 and Gainesville cardiologist, presented stories of some of those early practitioners at a Nov. 10 lecture.
“Fifty years can go by in the blink of an eye,” Barrow joked. “I’m living testimony to that.”
Barrow has worked for years to preserve historical landmarks in Gainesville and on the UF campus, including the Matheson Historical Center and the Robb House. His talk, which focused on the history of early Gainesville doctors and the health center at UF, was part of the monthly History of Medicine lecture series.
Alachua County’s first physician, Dr. George M. Payne, arrived here from Virginia in 1843, two years before Florida became a state, according to Barrow.
More doctors arrived and by the turn of the century, there were seven physicians in Gainesville, eight in Micanopy and eight in Newnansville, which was Alachua County’s former county seat.
Most of the physicians who had attended medical school went to the Medical College of South Carolina, Jefferson Medical College, Savannah Medical College and the Medical College of Georgia.
But many of the physicians didn’t formally attend medical school, Barrow said. They just trained as an apprentice for two years with a doctor in practice and then went out on their own.
“At that time there were few medical schools,” he said.
One early Gainesville physician highlighted was Dr. Thomas W. McCaa. When a yellow fever epidemic hit Cedar Key, he was one of the few area doctors to risk his own life to treat the sick there. Often a community struck by yellow fever was simply quarantined and abandoned, said Barrow.
Another early notable physician was Dr. Sarah Robb, who practiced in Gainesville from 1884 until about 1930, Barrow said. As a woman, Robb could not get into a medical school in the U.S., so she studied in Germany for four years to get her medical degree. She returned to the U.S. and set up her practice in Gainesville.
“She delivered thousands of babies and made house calls in a horse and buggy,” Barrow said.
Robb’s Gainesville home was later restored and moved from East University Avenue to Second Avenue. The Robb House serves as a medical museum that features some of the original furniture and medical equipment and instruments used by Robb.
Barrow concluded his talk with memories of his own medical school days, which began with an impromptu interview with founding UF College of Medicine dean, Dr. George T. Harrell. After talking to Barrow for over two hours, Harrell told him that if he took three summer school classes, he would be given a seat in the first UF College of Medicine’s class.
Of the 40 people in his class, 13 were chosen by Harrell after he interviewed them, Barrow said.
“(Dr. Harrell) was the most visionary and…one of the smartest men I’ve ever known,” Barrow said.