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Return of the Apothecary

James M. McKenney, PharmD; John M. Witherspoon, MD
Arch Intern Med. 1981;141(11):1417-1418. doi:10.1001/archinte.1981.00340120025006.
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The practice of the apothecary in colonial America involved a variety of professional activities.1 Much emphasis was given to the preparation of salves, spirits, elixirs, and pills, with the numerous substances delivered by ship from the "old country." Apothecaries also searched the forests and seashores of the region for new plant and animal extracts that had potential therapeutic value.

But the practice of the apprentice-trained apothecary did not stop with the discovery and preparation of drug products. The apothecaries also applied their drug knowledge and skills to the treatment of common illnesses of the day. Records show that apothecaries cared for patients either in their "shops" or during rounds in the community. When illnesses were encountered that exceeded their ability, the apothecaries referred patients to local physicians for examination. Subsequently, the apothecary may have become further involved in the patient's care by consulting the physician and preparing the prescription.


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