A physician (typically known by the courtesy title of "Doctor") is a medical professional who practises non-surgical medicine at a high level, being primarily concerned with the diagnosis of conditions and their treatment with drugs and lifestyle therapies. What therapies exactly are within the physician's remit will depend on era - in some cases he will be trained and licenced to perform surgery, in others forbidden. Some doctors may peform enemas, urinalysis and all sorts of similar functions whilst others may (be obliged to) rely on nurses, support technicians or other specialists.
Depending on the era, the physician's practice may be based on a more or less competent understanding of human biology and the effects of his drugs thereon, or on a mixture of divination and empirical precendents. In the spectrum inbetween lies a great deal of what is politely described as "efficacy based prescription"1. Regardless, a practising doctor will be expected to have access to a substantial chunk of his culture's available medical knowledge and be able to at least relieve his patient's symptoms if not effect a cure - this usually bespeaks a high level of education and typically ensures an appropriate level of status and income. Medicine is an early entrant to any University or similar seat of learning and the profession of physician being quick to establish professional licensing. Where universities and such things are not to be had, the medical profession may be contiguous with the priesthood - or at least clerical orders - of an appropriate deity2.
In societies that care about such things, this may be one of the few licenced professions for which a woman is eligible - indeed those that practice strict gender segregation are liable to value a female practitioner who can attend their womenfolk without breaking taboos. For the status conscious, this is also likely to be a profession that the gentry can follow without "breaking caste" and therefore a useful route of disposal for younger sons of the nobility.
Where a physician operates without, or beyond the authority of, a licence, he tends to transform into a black market doctor.
Referring to a physician as a human life-sciences engineer is accurate, but not always well received.
Game and Story Use
- Given the level of education required a physician can be used for all sorts of things besides medicine - historically, it was a physician (specifically Luke of Antioch) who was comissioned to research the first deliberate biography of Christ and history of the Early Church, whilst in fiction Patrick O'Brian's Stephen Maturin is at once an accomplished physician and surgeon, a renowned natural philosopher and a top level intelligence operator. Susanna Gregory's Matthew Bartholomew mostly practices medicine, but applies that medicine to the investigation of crime as well as to the healing of the sick.
- A physician's status should allow them entry to fairly high society - allowing them to associate freely with knights and equivalent things, but equally medical practice, especially provided pro bono can give them access to the lowest homes in the land.
- Traditionally, physicians tend to be granted a certain amount of priviledge in uneasy or war-torn areas and may be allowed to pass unmolested where others might not - but also run the risk of being conscripted by those in need of medical assistance.
- Again, as noted above, this might be the sort of role where a woman could be fitted into a historical medieval campaign without too much dissonance - especially if a nun or canoness.