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12 Famous Doctors of Medicine
Their Work Is the Foundation of Modern Medicine

These famous doctors in the field of medicine were healers, teachers, researchers and inventors. Where would we be without their contributions to our health? The science of medicine has been advanced by them, working alone and on teams, pioneers in the field, remembered for their research, perseverance and compassion. They eradicated disease and added to the body of medical knowledge.

Here are twelve famous doctors and their work
  1. Famous Doctor of Ancient Greece Hippocrates
  2. Famous Doctor Edward Jenner
  3. Famous Doctor Rene Laennec
  4. Famous Doctor Henry Gray
  5. Famous Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis
  6. French Chemist Louis Pasteur
  7. Famous Doctor Joseph Lister
  8. Famous Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell
  9. Famous Doctor Frederick Banting
  10. Famous Doctor Charles Drew
  11. Famous Doctor Alexander Fleming
  12. Famous Doctor Virginia Apgar

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor of Ancient Greece Hippocrates

Greek Doctor Hippocrates
Hippocrates, about 460 BC 377 BC, is a famous doctor and the father of Western medicine. As a physician practicing and teaching in Classical Greece, he made medicine a discipline separate from theology and philosophy. Hippocrates founded a school for medicine on the island of Cos, Greece, where he taught that thoughts, ideas and feelings come from the brain, rather than the heart. He described the symptoms of many diseases like pneumonia and epilepsy. The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of early medical works from ancient Greece, a summary of the medical knowledge of the time, attributed to him and his students. Hippocrates introduced the Hippocratic Oath, a promise physicians make to practice medicine ethically, that is still used today in revised form.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Edward Jenner

Famous Doctor Edward Jenner
Edward Anthony Jenner, 1749 1823, was a famous English doctor and scientist who worked in immunology and developed the smallpox vaccine. His discovery has eradicated the dreaded disease of smallpox and saved more lives than the work of any other doctor. To this day, smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been eradicated.

Smallpox was an infectious disease since prehistoric time, killing, blinding and disfiguring its victims. The concept of variolation, using the smallpox virus itself for a risky inoculation, was introduced in England from Turkey by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. A few individuals had already used the cowpox vaccine to try to vaccinate against smallpox. Jenner knew that milkmaids who worked with cows got the milder cowpox disease from cows, but did not contract smallpox. Jenner hypothesized that the pus from cowpox would provide immunity from smallpox. He successfully tested his hypothesis and published papers on vaccination. He opened the field of immunology, with the possibility of curing many more diseases. Jenner died at the age of 73 after several strokes.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Rene Laennec

Rene Laennec, 1781 1826 was a famous French doctor and physician who invented the stethoscope, used for auscultation, that is, listening to the sounds in the lungs and heart. It became the primary medical diagnostic tool. Doctors of today still rely on his invention.

The idea for the stethoscope came while he watched children playing with hollow sticks, which translated and amplified sounds. His skill as a flautist may have contributed to his invention. He authored many articles in the field of auscultation. Laennec was known for his charity to the poor during the French Revolution.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Henry Gray

Famous Doctor Henry Gray
Henry Gray, 1827-1861, was a famous English doctor and surgeon and author of the book Anatomy, also known as Gray's Anatomy, an authoritative textbook for medical students that is still published today. In 1858 Doctor Gray published the first edition of Anatomy, with 750 pages and and 363 drawings. The success of the book is partly due to the skilled illustrations made by his friend Henry Vandyke Carter.

Learning anatomy from surgery on cadavers, he submitted outstanding student work. Henry Gray was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 25. He became a Lecturer of Anatomy at St. George's Hospital, and published the book he is known for at the age of 31. His promising career was interrupted by his untimely death from smallpox at the age of 34.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis

Ignaz Semmelweis, 1818-1865, was a famous Hungarian doctor. He dramatically reduced the death rate of new mothers from childbed fever. At this time the germ theory of infection was unknown in medicine. From 10% to 35% of all women died after childbirth from puerperal fever. Doctor Semmelweis worked at one of two Obstetrical Clinics of the Vienna General Hospital.

These were charitable maternity clinics where illegitimate babies were delivered. Here surgeons staffed the first maternity clinic, and midwives staffed the second maternity clinic. The clinic staffed by surgeons had a death rate 3 times higher than the midwives' clinic. Semmelweis's careful study found that the only difference between the clinics was that midwives regularly washed their hands. He required doctors to wash their hands in a disinfectant solution of chlorinated lime and thus greatly improved the survival rate of women in childbirth.

His published conclusions were widely ridiculed by his peers. Suffering from a nervous breakdown, possibly Alzheimer's or syphilis, Semmelweis was confined to an asylum, beaten by guards and died from his wounds two weeks after admission. His work gained acceptance only after his death.

famous doctors of medicineFrench Chemist Louis Pasteur

French Chemist Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur. 1822 - 1895, was a French chemist and one of the founders of microbiology. He was not a licensed doctor, but he improved the health of everyone. His work proved the theory that germs cause disease. He was a professor of physics and then a professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

The death of two of his five children from typhoid fever motivated him to study disease and medicine. In his breakthrough work Pasteur demonstrated that fermentation is caused by the growth of microorganisms. He discovered the pasteurization process to kill the bacteria and molds that spoil milk and wine. He created a rabies vaccine and a vaccine for chicken cholera. He also disproved the theory of spontaneous generation of life forms by showing the "life comes from other life," which is called the Law of Biogenesis. This law means that maggots come from maggots and bacteria from bacteria, rather than via spontaneous generation out of nothingness.

Pasteur received many honors, including a Grand Croix of the Legion of Honor from France. His death came in 1895 after a series of strokes. His remains have been placed in a crypt in the Institut Pasteur, Paris.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Joseph Lister

Famous Doctor Joseph Lister
Joseph Lister, 1827 - 1912 was a famous English doctor, surgeon and the father of antiseptic, that is, sterile surgery. He introduced carbolic acid to sterilize surgical instruments, to clean wounds, and to clean the hands of the surgeon. His work reduced gangrene and other infections and made surgery safer for patients.

At this time wounds often became infected after surgery, which led to death. French chemist Louis Pasteur had proved that rotting and fermentation were caused by microorganisms. While professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, Doctor Lister showed that gangrene, the rotting of human flesh, could be prevented by cleaning wounds with carbolic acid. This was the first antiseptic treatment for wounds. Like Ignaz Semmelweis, Doctor Lister noticed that babies delivered by midwives had a better survival rate than babies delivered by surgeons, because midwives washed their hands often. He also had surgeons wash their hands before and after a surgery using a solution of carbolic acid, and wear clean gloves. He used carbolic acid to sterilize medical instruments and the surgery. Lister made surgery safer and improved the infant survival rate. His work finally convinced the worldwide medical community of the germ theory of infection, discovered by Ignaz Semmelweis.

Doctor Lister showed that aseptic surgery made many types of operations successful. He operated on a brain tumor, repaired kneecaps with metal wire and improved mastectomies. He was a popular lecturer and president of the Royal Society. After the death of his wife Agnes, who was his lifetime partner in his laboratory, Lister retired from medicine. In 1879 Listerine mouthwash was named after him for his work in antisepsis. Also named in his honour is the bacterial genus Listeria. He received fame and honor during his lifetime, and was made a baron. He died in his home at the age of 84.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell

Famous Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821 1910, was the first female doctor in the United States. She founded medical schools and supported women in medicine, the anti-slavery movement and the women's rights movement. Blackwell was born in England, one of nine children in a Quaker family where the daughters received a good education at home. After the family emigrated to the United States, she taught school in Kentucky to pay for medical training. She studied medicine privately under several physicians, and was admitted, by mistake, to Geneva College in New York. In spite of much prejudice, in 1849 she became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, and graduated first in her class.

In 1857, Doctor Blackwell along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. During the American Civil War, Blackwell trained many women to be nurses for the Union Army. In 1868 she established a Women's Medical College for women, physicians, and doctors. She opened the first training school for nurses in the United States in 1873. She also was the first woman to be registered in England as a doctor. Returning to England, she founded the Women's Medical College with Florence Nightingale. Doctor Blackwell remained an active teacher, lecturer and author until she died in 1910 at her home in England after a stroke.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Frederick Banting

Famous Doctor Fredrick Banting
Frederick Banting, 1891-1941, was a Canadian doctor and scientist. Working with Dr. John Macleod, he discovered insulin, which is used to treat diabetes.

At college, he transferred from divinity studies to medicine. After graduation he served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps in France in WWI. He was wounded and received the Military Cross for heroism under fire. Back in Toronto, Doctor Banting set up a general practice, and also taught medicine.

It was generally known that diabetes was the buildup of sugar in the blood caused by the lack of insulin, a protein secreted by the pancreas. Banting devised a successful procedure to extract insulin from the pancreas. In 1923, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this work, which he shared with Dr. Macleod.

In Toronto, he founded the Banting and Best Institute, where he studied silicosis, cancer, drowning and blackout of high-altitude airplane pilots. He has received many awards and honors, including knighthood. The Banting crater on the moon was named for him. Banting was portrayed by Jason Priestley in the film Above and Beyond.

Twice married, father of one child and an enthusiastic painter, Doctor Banting died in a plane crash. A CBC public survey in 2004 named him one of the top 10 "Greatest Canadians."

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Charles Drew

Famous Doctor Charles Drew
Charles R. Drew, 1904 - 1950, was a prominent African American doctor during the period of segregation in the United States. He is recognized for his work in the field of blood transfusions.

The death of his sister Elsie during a flu pandemic influenced his decision to study medicine. Doctor Drew received his MD degree in 1933 and became instructor in pathology, then an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon. He studied blood preservation techniques, and received his Doctor of Science in Surgery from Columbia University, New York.

During World War II, Doctor Drew organized the Blood for Britain project, a prototype blood bank to collect, test, store and send U.S. blood plasma to aid Britain. The successful program continued for five months and recruited 15,000 donors. Drew opposed the practice of segregating blood by the race of the donor, on the basis of scientific search. As a result, he lost his job. However, in 1943, he was appointed to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery, the first black surgeon to do so.

Doctor Drew worked in research and teaching at Freedman's Hospital, Morgan State University, Montreal General and Howard University. He died in 1946 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident, leaving behind his wife and four children.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming, 1881 1955, was a Scottish biologist and pharmacologist. He is famous for his discovery of the antibiotic penicillin. Penicillin changed the course of medicine. It was the life-saving drug that conquered syphilis, gangrene and tuberculosis.

By chance, Fleming discovered the anti-bacterial lysozyme, a natural substance found in tears and the nose that helps the body fight germs. He noticed that his own nasal mucus dripped onto a petri dish and killed the bacteria. Penicillin, the most effective life-saving drug in the world, was also discovered accidentally. While Fleming was on vacation, a mold had grown and destroyed the bacteria on a Petri dish in his lab. Fleming's discoveries are substances that can kill bacteria but not adversely affect the human body. Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945.

famous doctors of medicineFamous Doctor Virginia Apgar

Famous Doctor Virginia Apgar
Virginia Apgar, 1909 1974, was a famous American doctor who founded the field of neonatology for the care of newborn infants, especially the ill or premature newborn. She was a leader in the fields of anesthesiology and teratology, the study of developmental defects. She developed the Apgar test to assess the health of babies immediately at birth and to study the effects of obstetric anesthesia on babies. Her work reduced worldwide infant mortality.

Doctor Apgar graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. After her residency in surgery, she trained in anesthesia and became director of the division of anesthesia at Columbia. At a time when she and women in general were discouraged from a career as a physician, she was the first woman in the positions she held. She published more than 60 scientific papers and articles and books for the general public.

The Apgar test she invented was the first test made for newborn health. The test scores the health of the newborn baby on the basis of 5 observable criteria, Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. Her name Apgar also became a mnemonic word based on these five criteria. The Apgar score indicates if a newborn needs immediate medical care. It is easily administered by trained observation.

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