Famous Physicians

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We all know that the relationship between nurses and doctors can often be strained at best, adversarial at worst, and we’ve got the jokes and internet memes to prove it.  But like sibling relationships, for all the fighting and “she’s breathing my air”, there grows a deep mutual admiration, even if no one will admit to it.  Today we are going to admit to it.  After a week of celebrating nurses, we want to give a big shout out to the doctors out there as well.  Physicians have been revered and respected throughout history because they have been the healers and promoters of good health habits.  Medicine has seen great advancements in the past and present – all because of the dedication of our doctors and nurses.  We’ve put together some information on a few of these pioneers.

  • Elizabeth Blackwell born February 3, 1821 in England.  Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell chose medicine because she had a close friend who was dying, and firmly believed her friend would have been spared much suffering if she had had a female physician.  Dr. Blackwell’s family moved to the United States at the age of 11 for financial reasons and also because her father wanted to help abolish slavery.  She is best known as the first woman in the United States to receive a MD degree from an American medical school.  Dr. Blackwell was turned down many times as she applied to medical schools.  She was finally accepted by Geneva Medical College in western New York in 1847, and two years later she had her degree.  She worked in clinics in London and Paris for two years and also studied midwifery.  She contracted the disease purulent opthalmia from a young patient, which resulted in her losing her eyesight in one eye, diminished her dream of becoming a surgeon.  She returned to the United States and set about helping other females interested in medicine. She established the New York Infirmary in 1857, which helped provide a practical solution to women looking for internships.  For the most part women were rejected from other internships and by attending Elizabeth’s infirmary the interns were able to expand their skills as physicians.  Dr. Blackwell also wrote several books about the issues faced by women desiring a career in medicine.
  • Harvey Cushing born April 8, 1869 in the United States. Because of Dr. Harvey Cushing’s expertise and his many discoveries, Neurology and Neurosurgery are now one of the most important divisions in medicine worldwide. Many of the tools, techniques and procedures used in the operating rooms today were developed by Dr. Cushing in the early 19th century.  He deviated from traditional medical methods and learned ways to control one of the most important functioning systems in our bodies – the Central Nervous System. He discovered the deadly Cushing’s disease characterized by too much ACTH, which stimulates the production and release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Dr. Cushing was awarded for his efforts and contributions in surgery and science, and a neurosurgical association, The Harvey Cushing Society, was set up in honor of his prominent profession as a neurosurgeon.  Today he is recognized as the father of brain surgery.
  • Frederick Banting born November 14, 1891 in Canada.  Fredrick split his career between several different fields of medicine – Orthopedics, Pharmacology and General Medicine.  Dr. Banting became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology at the young age of 32.  After losing a young friend to diabetes, Dr. Banting became greatly motivated to learn more.  Through this study and his many achievements, he created fresh hope for the treatment of diabetes by finding a way to produce insulin for the diabetic to be able to inject when needed.
  • Orvan Walter Hess born June 18, 1906 in the United States.  Dr. Orvan Walter Hess was an OBGYN who developed the first fetal heart monitor allowing both the mother and fetus to be monitored during labor. Dr. Hess was passionate about his chosen profession and served in the Army during WWII as a surgeon and survived the battle of Normandy. He practiced almost 50 years as an obstetrician at the Yale-New Haven Hospital.  He was highly celebrated and received the prestigious “Scientific Achievement Award” before his death at age 96.
  • Virginia Apgar born June 7, 1909 in the United States.  Dr. Virginia Apgar was a pioneer in the field of teratology and founded the field of neonatology. Teratology is the study of the causes and biological processes leading to abnormal fetal development and birth defects, and appropriate measures for prevention.  After attending Columbia University during the Great Depression, she became the first female professor ever appointed by the University.  Dr. Apgar was also an obstetrical anesthesiologist and was instrumental in inventing a newborn scoring system that helps healthcare professionals assess the health of a newborn immediately after birth and determine if the newborn is in need of medical attention.  The Apgar Scoring System was widely embraced by the medical establishment and still used today.  Dr. Apgar left an indelible presence in the world of medicine.
  • Cicely Saunders born June 22, 1918 in Great Britain.  A renowned nurse, physician and social worker, Dr. Cecily Saunders introduced the idea of “total pain”.  She believed pain to contribute not only to physical distress but emotional, social and spiritual distress as well.  She campaigned for the use of drugs on a regular basis to patients who suffered with constant pain.  She understood that patient’s constant use of pain medicines such as morphine would lead to an addiction.  However, she taught that by administering these medicines on a regular schedule, it would solve the addiction problem because the patients would receive lower doses of these medicines.   Her theory is considered an important characteristic of hospice care.  She was the founder of St. Christopher’s hospice that took care of terminally ill patients.  At that time, it was believed that euthanasia was the only solution for patients who suffered from cancer and other painful diseases.  Dr. Saunders was able to prove that pain could be controlled by compassionate care and love through the establishment of St. Christopher’s hospice.

These are just a few of the amazing doctors throughout history who have changed the face of medicine as we know it. World-renowned or not, doctors work tirelessly to care for their patents.  Do you have a favorite historical doctor that we didn’t highlight?  How about a doctor who should be world-renowned?  Head over to our Facebook page, Instagram (@tafford) or Twitter (@tafford), give them a shout out and tag us so we can say “thanks” too!

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