The first mention of a medical bag is in the Hippocratic Corpus around 350 BCE – where it describes how the medical practitioner should carry a case fitted to hold the necessary items required when visiting patients. The earliest Australian doctors were ship, naval or military surgeons. All surgeons in the employment of the army or navy were obliged to have a set of surgical instruments of an approved type, which were stored in a chest or box.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, city doctors either walked or carried their equipment by horse and buggy, whereas country doctors often needed to carry it in their saddle bags. Hence, medical bags needed to be readily portable and easily accessible while still containing everything that was needed for any circumstance that might arise. In use for more than a century the popular Gladstone bag fulfilled that purpose with its ample capacity and wide opening allowing easy access to the contents.
Until relatively recently, home calls were common, many being at night, so the GP needed to carry an assortment of drugs ranging from syrup of ipecacuanha to diuretics and antibiotics; various dressings and a range of diagnostic instruments. These would include a stethoscope, a sphygmomanometer, clinical thermometer, tongue depressor, a torch, ophthalmoscope, auriscope, a test tube or two, and bottles of Benedict’s reagent and acetic acid to complete the kit.
A historical account of the doctor's bag
Dammery D. A historical account of the doctor’s bag. Aust Fam Physican 2016;45(9):636-38