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The Society lobbies for creation of the state’s MEB


Wisconsin’s Medical Examining Board was created almost 120 years ago by an act passed by the state legislature in 1897. Its origins, however, can be traced back to the Wisconsin Medical Society, according to the Annual Meeting minutes of the Society from 1880 to 1898.

In 1880, the Society drafted a medical practice bill calling for the creation of a medical board of examiners, but no legislative action was taken. Eight years later, the Society tried again with a new bill, but the same premise: a medical board of examiners to regulate the practice of medicine in Wisconsin and prevent any “incompetent persons” from practicing, too.

But it was another 10 years before a similar bill become law. Finally on April 19, 1897, the state passed the bill that created the Wisconsin Board of Medical Examiners, capping off several years of persistence by the Society.

The law required the Society, the Homeopathic Medical Society and the Wisconsin State Eclectic Medical Society each to submit a list of 10 names to the governor, who would then appoint seven members to the board. Those members were to conduct examinations and issue licenses to anyone planning to practice medicine in Wisconsin. Though the law was passed in April, physicians weren’t required to be licensed in the state until July 1. After that date, anyone using MD (medical doctor) or MB (bachelor of medicine) credentials or practicing medicine without a license could be fined as much as $100 and/or sentenced to three months in a county jail.

Within its first year, the board issued about 170 licenses. However, due to a misinterpretation of the law, the board initially refused licenses to the 1898 graduating class of the Milwaukee Medical College. The issue was soon resolved and licenses were granted to the graduating class. But even without the controversy with the medical college, the Society recognized that the new law had its weaknesses and worked with lawmakers to iron out those weak spots.

“We have a rather weak law in some particulars, and it should be the duty of every practitioner in the state to do what we can to bolster up those weak points until we have a law eminently satisfactory to everybody, and one that we can always stand by,” said Society member W. H. Earles, MD, at the Society’s 1898 Annual Meeting.

Test your knowledge

What Society member and past president was appointed by four consecutive governors as Secretary for the State Board of Health during the first quarter of the 20th Century? If you know the answer or would like to take a guess, e-mail Jennifer Wieman by noon, Wednesday, March 30. Good Luck!

The answer to last week’s question: Kate Pelham Newcomb, MD, who was also known as “Doctor Kate” was featured on the popular television show “This is Your Life” in 1954. After her appearance on the show, money from across the country was donated on behalf of Dr. Kate for completion of the Lakeland Memorial Hospital in the Arbor Vitae-Woodruff area in northern Wisconsin. (It was later renamed the Howard Young Medical Center in 1972.)

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