Historical perspective, future vision
Christian Brown is working with Ben Urick, PharmD, PhD, to digitize, transcribe, and analyze 2,000 antique prescriptions from Washington, IA, circa 1900.
It’s September 2017 during Parents Weekend at my alma mater, the University of South Carolina. I am showing my dad and stepmother around campus and the surrounding city of Columbia, SC. “And to your left, we have the Army–Navy Surplus store,” I direct them as we stroll down Main Street. My dad looks over, and we smile at each other. We love old things!
Once inside, I eagerly describe my previous surplus find: volume three of Metabolic, Endocrine, and Genetic Disorders of Children (1974). The pale orange tome was salvaged from the Moncrief Hospital at Fort Jackson. The two remaining volumes materialize in my stepmother’s hands as she wanders to the opposite side of the bookcase. So began my collection of antique medical, health, and science books.
I study pharmacy history to see the big picture. I have read about the development of the first natural and synthetic antibiotics amid the world at war, the political climate surrounding the first contraceptive pill, and the broken promise of American medicine as costs soar and outcomes fall. These books investigate the breakthroughs that we take for granted and highlight the real people behind each discovery.
Kremers and Urdang’s History of Pharmacy (1986) details apothecaries’ respected position in society throughout ancient civilizations. This trend continues as pharmacists are ranked America’s third most trusted professionals, according to Gallup in 2018. Sneader’s Drug Discovery: A History (2005) explains that the Arab World preserved Greek pharmaceutical knowledge while Europe was immersed in the Dark Ages. Now, we remember our roots as the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy records eye-opening stories on the evolution of drug law and learning.
In addition to written history, there is also the preservation of historical artifacts. Many schools of pharmacy keep a display of druggist items from potassium permanganate to Mother’s Little Helper. Before the 1960s, however, the patient wouldn’t know the difference because disclosing prescription contents was banned in past APhA codes of ethics. Currently, I work with Ben Urick, PharmD, PhD, at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, to digitize, transcribe, and analyze 2,000 antique prescriptions from Washington, IA, circa 1900. We plan to identify the indications based on timely pharmacopeias and derive prescribing patterns. I may start with the prescriptions for a Mr. “Self.”
Know history, make history
Pharmacy history reminds us that insulin is a life-saving medication that should be affordable to those in need. It chides us that the opioid epidemic is nothing new and that we should have seen this coming. It challenges us to prioritize patient-centered care in our moral and ethical obligations to serve. To carefully examine pharmacy history is to predict the future of our profession.
Christian Brown is a first-year PharmD Candidate at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. To collaborate on the antique prescription project, please contact Ben Urick at firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Antique Rx.”