While surgeons today are actually doctors, have you ever heard that in the olden days surgeons were actually barbers?
Believe it or not, surgeons started off as barbers because of the unique hairstyle of Catholic monks.
Because of their monastic practices, Catholic monks in the Middle Ages maintained a tonsure – the characteristic baldness on the top of their head monks are known for. This created a market for barbers, because monasteries would have to either hire or train a barber to cut their hair.
Skilled with the razor, these monk-barbers ended up being called up for tasks other than cutting hair – like amputating limbs.
These “surgeon barbers” would perform bloodletting, teeth pulling, creating of ointments, and surgeries. Of course, surgical mortality was high because of blood loss and infection.
These surgeon barbers were distinct from physicians, as doctors of the day considered themselves above surgery and instead only observed surgical patients and offered their medical expertise in consulting.
Today, little trace of the origins of surgery remains in these once barbers that cut the hair of monks.
The traditional barber’s pole, with red and white stripes, is said to represent the blood and bandages associated with their past duties.