Plague doctors were individuals in the Middle Ages who were given the task of tending to people infected with the plague. In most cases, they were either second rate or under-trained physicians, incapable of maintaining their own practice. Many were not doctors at all, but people of various other employments paid by towns to cater to the sick.
Plague doctors were employed in various methods whenever plague set in. The earliest documentation of these individuals being hired go as far back as the mid 500s AD. The plague doctor image that we as a general public are familiar with was not seen until the 1600s. It was then that the “traditional” plague doctor costume was created. The costume consisted of a cloak made of heavy fabric covered in wax to protect the doctor’s body, and a mask to keep out the sick air. The masks had a long cone shaped structure at the nose, to be filled with scents that would protect the doctor from the bad air.
Because of the nature of their work, plague doctors often became victims of the plague themselves, or were quarantined for the protection of the public.