The history of health education accompanies the most revolutionary developments in the history of public health. According to the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (2012), the mission of any health educator is to promote, improve, and maintain public health by providing society members with a valid and motivating message to encourage healthier lifestyles. Consequently, any health educator is expected to monitor changes and trends in public health and use this information to determine the most serious public health concerns and the most promising strategies to address them.
Public Helth during The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages are fairly regarded as one of the most complicated and challenging periods in the history of public health. "Classic historians claim that the Middle Ages were generally devoid of any significant scientific advancement and have classified this period as the 'Dark Ages'" (Basford & Slevin, 2003, p. 14). The Dark Ages were characterized by the lack of any revolutionary breakthroughs in any field of human performance, including health care. However, it is wrong to believe that people in the Middle Ages had no medicine at all. For instance, Italian physicians in the Dark Ages readily adopted the principles of the Saracens and Vedic medicine (Basford & Slevin, 2003). The discussed principles even laid the foundation for introducing medical training courses in some European hospices (Basford & Slevin, 2003). After the fall of Rome and before Renaissance, monastic medicine was the most prevalent form of healthcare, when monks acted as physicians, using Greek medical texts as a guide (Krebs, 2004).
As a health educator, if I could time-travel to the period of the Dark Ages, I would definitely encounter numerous challenges on my way to better public health. Basically, I would find it difficult to shape my educational message, due to the absence of any scientific progress in medicine (Basford & Slevin, 2003). At present, epidemiological research is on the rise. Health educators use empirical evidence to devise and implement evidence-based educational campaigns that encourage positive life improvements and, subsequently, create better conditions for improvements in public health. Back in the Dark Ages, medicine lost its experimental and research edge, turning into a simplified philosophy of amateur procedures bordering on herbalism (Lyons, n.d.). Moreover, given that monks were the primary providers of physician services, I do not think that my health education message would have any tangible impacts on the audience.
Actually, a health educator could have little effect on the most prevalent problems of that time. One of the chief reasons why health education was irrelevant during the Dark Ages is because the Roman Church was the dominant source of all public influences (Krebs, 2004). Under the pressure to quit shedding of blood, medieval physicians had to abandon all surgical procedures, trusting them to barbers (Krebs, 2004). The audience was more likely to believe in miracles and folk medicine than in empirical evidence-based medicine. Consequently, a health educator could find his place in the medieval system of medicine, only if he followed the prescriptions of the Roman Church, which were certainly well distanced from any real science.
Certainly, a health educator could readily incorporate the findings of Muslim physicians, which were rapidly popularized during the Middle Ages (Krebs, 2004). Closer ties with the Roman Church could also facilitate the development and dissemination of a health message among people. However, the growing reliance on magical and quasi-magical methods of medicine would become a serious impediment to teaching the society how to improve and maintain their health (Lyons, n.d.). Also, the lack of even the basic health literacy would never allow for the development of even the simplest health education campaign.
To conclude, the Dark Ages were particularly problematic in terms of health education. The lack of any scientific progress in medicine was a strong barrier against devising effective health education campaigns. Moreover, as the majority of people relied on monks and their medical skills, even the most reasonable health education message would have little effect on the public. The strong influence of the Roman Church would never allow for the development of even the most primitive health education campaign.
- Basford, L. & Slevin, O. (2003). Theory and practice of nursing: An integrated approach to caring practice. London, UK: Nelson Thornes.
- Krebs, R.E. (2004). Groundbreaking scientific experiments, inventions, and discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Lyons, A.S. (n.d.). Medieval medicine: The Dark Ages. Health Guidance. Retrieved from http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/6343/1/Medieval-Medicine-The-Dark- Ages.html.
- National Commission for Health Education Counseling. (2012). Health education profession. NCHEC. Retrieved from http://www.nchec.org/credentialing/profession/.