Inside Nostradamus' Surprising Medical School History

Michel de Nostredame — Nostradamus – was a French astrologer and physician born in 1503. He is mostly famous for his prophecies, which gained him a loyal following while he was alive and are cited to this day. Some credit Nostradamus with predicting the future — historical events such as the rise of Hitler, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic (via History). He is credited by others with predicting the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, the death of Princess Diana, the creation of the atomic bomb, and many more (via Medical Bag). Modern analysts, however, see him as neither an astrologer nor a seer, but as someone who believed that history tended to repeat itself.

As a physician, Nostradamus spent his time inventing treatments and cures while healing the sick. But his history in this realm is a bit more complex than you might think. Nostradamus' time in medical school was put on pause during a plague outbreak, and historic documents suggest he may have been expelled after his return.

Nostradamus helped victims of the plague

Nostradamus enrolled in the University of Avignon in 1519 at just 15 years old. He was only able to study there for a year, however, because of an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the town. He then decided to travel throughout France, Spain, and Italy, spending the next eight years researching herbal remedies and working as an apothecary — in those days, the rough equivalent of a modern-day pharmacist. Apothecaries experimented, created, and distributed medicines (via Penn Medicine News). As such, Nostradamus assisted victims of the plague with natural cures (via History).

The techniques Nostradamus employed in treating plague patients were unusual for the times. He encouraged good hygiene and fresh air for patients and the removal of infected corpses from towns. In addition, he invented the "rose pill," which was vitamin c derived from rose hips. This was given to patients and those around them to help provide protection from the illness. Nostradamus' methods gave him higher cure rates than others treating the sick. His methods were easier on the body than other popular treatments at the time, such as bloodletting and prescribing mercury (via Medical Bag).

He may have been expelled from medical school

After his short period at the University of Avignon and his time as an apothecary treating the bubonic plague, Nostradamus enrolled at the University of Montpellier in 1529. According to an expulsion document kept in the faculty library of the college, he was expelled shortly after precisely because of his time as an apothecary. Today, we might think of that as helpful background experience for a career in medicine, but in those days, university policy strictly forbade working as an apothecary, as it was looked down on by physicians as an inferior job.

There is some debate on whether Nostradamus was allowed to return later to finish his medical degree. There is no evidence to prove whether or not he did, but the expulsion papers from 1529 still exist (via History). Some accounts state that he wasn't expelled at all and was licensed to practice medicine in 1525, but there is no concrete evidence that this occurred, either (via Medical Bag).