The Doctor Will See You Now

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 1 class
1 hour
Time to read the lesson and to download the “Doctor Over Time” website
Materials: Computer and large screen for projection


Students will take a startling journey back in time to find out how infections and other health problems we are now able to cure or manage over a long term ended in disability or death just a century ago. Then the students will relate these to their own lives in listing what drugs, therapies, and medical interventions have helped them and people they know. Finally, they will discuss where new drugs come from and the process of clinical trials. The purpose of this lesson is to make the students aware of how much modern medicine can eliminate disease and suffering due to the drugs available now and the importance of bio-medical research in the development of those wonder drugs.

Students will be able to:
1. Compare the treatments available for certain medical conditions during three different points in time during the last hundred years;
2. List the medicines and drug therapies available now that have helped them and those they know;
3. Postulate what new medicines, drug therapies, and medical devices still need to be developed and how these go through testing to be safe enough for actual usage.

National English Education Standards
Standard #7
Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Teacher Background
A knowledge of how radically different medicine practiced today is from what was available a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago can be garnered from charts and information on this topic at the end of the lesson.

Resource Websites




The first activity for this lesson uses the Doctor over Time website [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/doctor/] and should take about 20 minutes. With your students, you are going to take a journey back in time. We often romanticize the past and forget just how tenuous life was at times, even during the twentieth century.

1. Tell the students that the class is going to have three different doctors from three points in time, 1900, 1950, and 1998, examine them when they have a certain medical problem and prescribe treatment. As a class, go through the Doctor over Time activity starting with the 1900’s physician. Ask the students if they can guess what the ailment described is before the doctor makes his diagnosis. Can they predict how each doctor will handle the examination and treatment? Over the three time periods compare who does the testing of the specimens, who takes care of the treatments, and how successful the cures are.

2. Now that the students are certain that they do not wish to go back to the state of medicine as it was practiced in 1900, ask each of them to generate a list of medicines, drug therapies, diagnosing equipment, and medical devices that have helped them, their family members, and/or friends to recover from illnesses or manage a medical condition. Can the students figure out which of the things on their lists were not around in the year 1900 or even in 1950? Give the students 10 – 15 minutes to work on this.

3. As a class, discuss and compare the lists that the students have made. It’s no surprise that many modern medicines are called miracle drugs. Ask the students to further think about which diseases we still need to find cures for.

So how will we find the new cures? Introduce the idea of clinical trials. At some point new drugs need to be tested on human beings. How do medical researchers make sure that a substance or a compound is safe and still be able to explore new medical territory?

Write down five important safeguards that you think must be in place for a clinical trial to take place and be both respectful of and protective of its human subjects.

Embedded Assessment
Student engagement with this lesson can be gauged by evaluating the quality of the responses contributed to the class discussions and the willingness to do the written work in preparation for the discussions.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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