What is a Doctor's Bag?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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A traditional doctor's bag is a duffel-shaped leather satchel used primarily to carry small medical necessities when making house calls. The bag was a standard item in centuries past when doctors visited patients scattered throughout the neighboring countryside. Today, doctors working in rural areas of third world nations might use doctors’ bags more often than their affluent counterparts, while doctors in industrialized nations often choose to keep a bag packed for emergencies encountered when off duty.

The classic doctor's bag is flat-bottomed with rounded sides, slightly elongated. Two large handles come together over the top for easy carrying. The mouth of the bag has a collapsible metal frame that springs open when handles are separated and tugged. The gaping mouth makes it easy to see into the bag and extract items.

Some standard utensils one might find in a doctor's bag include a stethoscope, otoscope (to look into the ear canal), blood pressure cuff, tourniquet, forceps, stitches, needle, scissors, scalpel, antibiotics, aspirin, pain killer, bandages, antiseptic, cotton, smelling salts and antibacterial cream. A doctor’s bag can carry enough items to help a doctor assess the vital signs of a patient or someone in crisis, and perform basic emergency procedures, if necessary, to help stabilize the patient until he or she can be transported to a medical facility.


Genuine, antique doctors' bags are considered collectors' items and can be found for sale at various prices depending on the shape of the bag, its history, and distinguishing characteristics. Special features might include unique compartments and design features or monogrammed initials. Doctors' bags with date-appropriate tools can also be found displayed in many history museums.

The humble doctor's bag has come to represent, in many ways, the altruistic nature of those called to the medical profession. Away from the gleaming technology that has brought us so far, the simple, unchanged black bag still carries hope for those who need help of a doctor in the moment when technology is miles, minutes, hours or nations away.

A doctor's bag can be a thoughtful gift for a doctor or graduating medical student. A doctor might want to take a medical bag when traveling, for example, or stow it in his or her vehicle for emergencies. Bags come in many styles and price ranges, available from a variety of outlets including some luggage stores, medical supply retailers, leather shops and specialty gift stores. Doctors' bags are also available online.


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Post 4

A doctor's bag is also called a Gladstone bag.

Before World War II, about 90 percent of the medicine was natural. Today it is about 10 percent.

Even today the inspection, Auscultation, Palpation, and Percussion are most important for diagnosis. It has not changed much.

Post 3

@chivebasil - That sounds like a sound practical alternative to a leather bag. At the other extreme, did you know there's a market for designer doctor's bags? They aren't intended for clinical use, they just mimic the shape and style.

Post 2

I just got back from the Peace Corps and in my experience today's doctors use something that looks more like a tackle box than a traditional doctors bag. It doesn't have as much charm but it kind of makes sense. A lot of doctors have to carry delicate materials that can break or get deformed if they are jostled around. When you combine this with the rough conditions that a lot of work in, it makes sense to have a more protective bag.

Post 1

I'm glad that the article mentioned the symbolic meaning of the doctors bag. We live in a world of gleaming white machines and bright blue hospital scrubs. In spite of this, we still often think of the slightly rumpled doctor sheathed in a white lab coat trudging to make a house call carrying a worn leather doctors bag.

Somehow it seems like a symbol of their skill. Contained with that bag are the modest range of tools that the doctor can combine with their prodigious knowledge to cure an amazing range of diseases. Because it is so small and simple, it makes the doctor seem so much more capable.

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