One fascinating aspect of this novel is the depiction of cretinism, which was endemic at the time in the region of France about which Balzac wrote. Balzac did not describe the cretins as having goiter or neck enlargement, even though the relationship between thyroid size and cretinism was already known in the medical literature by the early 1830s. Dr. Benassis evidently thought that the "stagnant air" created conditions favorable to the spread of cretinism. By removing the cretins, he thought they would minimize the further spread of "this physical and mental contagion."
Another feature of The Country Doctor is the integration of medical practice with public health measures. In fact, the public health measures that Dr. Benassis initiated were very broad, including bringing small industry into the region and agricultural reform. Balzac’s tale is one of redemption from a life of sin through service to one’s fellow man.