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Luz María Hernández Sáenz

Carving a Niche

The Medical Profession in Mexico 1800-1870

McGill-Queens University Press 2018

New Books in HistoryNew Books in Latin American StudiesNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and Society July 16, 2020 Lisette Varón Carvajal

In Carving a Niche: The Medical Profession in Mexico 1800-1870 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018), Luz María Hernández Sáenz follows the trajectory of physicians in...

In Carving a Niche: The Medical Profession in Mexico 1800-1870 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018), Luz María Hernández Sáenz follows the trajectory of physicians in their quest for the professionalization of medicine in Mexico.

In the nineteenth century, medical practitioners sought to earn scientific and professional recognition both at home an internationally, and in doing so, they created institutions that shaped their profession, and sought to establish a monopoly in the realm of public health.

Hernández Sáenz places this story in an international context and demonstrates the importance of the French model in the establishment of a modern medical profession in Mexico. Significantly, we see how medical institutions changed as Mexico transitioned from a colonial society to a liberal, independent republic.

As we hear by the end of the interview, Mexican medical practitioners were eventually successful in earning professional status, and in monopolizing medical knowledge, however, they did not oust their rivals, nor they managed to turn medicine into a priority for local and national governments.

This is particularly important in the context of the current global pandemic for as Hernández Sáenz tells us, many of the problems that preoccupied physicians and government officials in the nineteenth century, still accompany us today. Chief among them is the subordination of matters of public health to economic interests, an important consideration for listeners interested in thinking how the past informs our present.

Luz María Hernández Sáenz is an emerita professor at the University of Western Ontario.


Lisette Varón-Carvajal is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. You can tweet her and suggest books at @LisetteVaron