As has been noted earlier, until a few centuries ago, nearly all surgery in Europe was performed by barbers, not by doctors. Rememeber that, until the advent of antiseptics and anaesthetics, surgery was a messy, gruesome, painful and (more often than not) fatal business. A highly educated medical school graduate didn’t want to sully his hands with such stuff. Surgery was considered beneath the dignity of a REAL doctor, and so doctors left it to blue-collar tradesman: barbers. As was mentioned earlier, the red and white pole was an allusion to the blood that was part and parcel of a barber-surgeon’s business.
An interesting side note: TODAY, of course, surgeons are medical doctors, highly paid, highly skilled, highly educated, well respected doctors at that. But the old belief that surgery was a blue-collar trade and not REAL medicine persisted in Europe for quite some time. For that very reason, even TODAY, if you go to the finest, most modern hospitals in London, you will find that their top neurosurgeons and heart surgeons are addressed as “Mister,” not as “Doctor.”
It all goes back to the days when surgery was done by barbers, not by doctors.