The names mentioned in this article are considered pioneers in the world of medicine. These doctors have played an extremely important part in modernizing healthcare and saving millions of life all around the globe.
Today, diseases such as polio, smallpox and malaria have been successfully eliminated from major parts of the world. Not only that, highly complicated surgeries which were not possible some years ago are being performed on a daily basis.
Yes, advancements in medicine have benefited millions, but a major part of appreciation goes to the following doctors, who with their hard work discovered cures for many medical ailments and saved millions of lives.
With their consistent efforts, they also ensured that every human in this world gets the best medical facilities and retains optimum health.
As a result today the world has become a better place to live, and most nations have successfully eradicated diseases like smallpox and rinderpest, and are on the mission to eliminate more dreaded diseases like polio and malaria, thereby increasing the lifespan of the common man.
Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC)
It was Hippocrates who pioneered the correct usage of medicine. One of the most exceptional people in the world, he was the first individual to study and describe the symptoms of pneumonia and epilepsy in kids. In an era where everyone believed that feelings, ideas and senses come from the heart, Hippocrates was the first one to believe and teach that it is the brain and not the heart that controls feelings, ideas and thoughts. He also developed the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ which is still followed by physicians all over.
Edward Anthony Jenner (1749 – 1823)
Known as ‘The Father of Immunology’, Anthony Edward Jenner was an English physician whose research and work has saved more lives than the work of any other physician. He is credited as the discoverer of the smallpox vaccine which proved to be the first successful prevention against a fatal disease, and still remains the only effective measure against smallpox. Edward Jenner started working in medicine when he was 13 under the leadership of Joseph Hunter and became a legit physician in 1773. His curiosity about natural phenomena and dedication to medicine played a major part in his quest to search an effective treatment against smallpox.
René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781 – 1826)
René Laennec is most famous for the invention of the stethoscope in 1816. Before that, the only way to understand a patient’s heartbeat or other chest sounds was by placing the ear on his/her chest. But this technique wasn’t helpful in the case of obese patients. However, with the introduction of stethoscope physicians were able to explore sounds of the chest and lungs. Laennec also developed an understanding of peritonitis and cirrhosis and coined the term melanoma. He is remembered as the ‘Father of Auscultation’ and authored many journals which are still used by healthcare professionals.
Ignaz Semmelweis (1818 – 1865)
Fondly remembered as the ‘Savior of Mothers’, Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician that advocated the use of hand disinfection at obstetrical clinics to reduce the incidents of puerperal fever. During the 19th century, hundreds of women died after childbirth due to puerperal fever. These incidents were extremely common in charitable maternity clinics where illegitimate kids were born. These clinics were run and divided between surgeons and midwives and it was observed that the surgeons section had a death rate 3 times higher than the midwives clinic. Through his careful study, Dr. Semmelweis found that the only difference between the sections was that midwives regularly washed their hands. He strongly advised all the doctors to wash their hands in a disinfectant solution which gradually improved the survival rate of women giving birth.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 – 1910)
The first female doctor of the United States, Miss Blackwell was the first openly identified woman to graduate medical school. A pioneer in acquiring equal rights for women in the field of education, she was also a well-respected social and moral reformer in England and the US. After she decided to study medicine, her application was rejected by all medical schools and she was admitted to Geneva College by mistake. After all her attempts to secure a job in the medical field failed, she along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska established the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. During the Civil War she trained hundreds of nurses to help the Union. In 1868, she established a medical college for women, physicians and doctors. She also opened the first nurses training school in the United States and later headed to England in 1869 and opened the Women’s Medical College in London with Sophia Jex-Blake, her previous student.
Theodor Billroth (1823-1894)
This article would really be incomplete if Dr. Christian Albert Theodor Billroth was left out. He was one of the most important figures in the field of medicine and invented practices that are still followed today. He started his career as a doctor with the Charité, taught at the University of Zurich and became the Director of the Surgical Hospital and Clinic in Zurich. He was also the first doctor to perform an esophagectomy (1871), the laryngectomy (1873), and gastrectomy (1881). His devised procedures are still practiced by doctors, but with some modifications. He also introduced the concept of audits, and the publishing of good and bad results to have an honest discussion on the condition’s diagnosis.
Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912)
During the 19th century doctors all around the world were trying to understand, the causes of wound infections after surgery. After decades of research, it was Dr. Lister who advocated the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, thereby pioneering the concept of aseptic surgery. Traditionally, a clean environment was a rare sight in hospitals, the staff used to wear dirty aprons, surgical instruments were never cleaned and doctors didn’t even washed their hands before operating. After Lister’s remarkable discovery, carbolic acid was extensively used to sterilize surgical instruments and to clean wounds, thereby reducing the number of surgery related infections.
Henry Gray (1827 – 1867)
Dr. Henry Gray was an English anatomist and surgeon who made headlines by publishing the book Gray’s Anatomy. This authoritative book is specially designed for students studying anatomy and is still in demand. The first edition was published in 1858 and contained 750 pages with 363 illustrations created by Henry Vandyke Carter, a skilled draughtsman and former demonstrator of anatomy at St. George’s Hospital. Dr. Gray practiced and learned anatomy mostly on corpses and was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS) at 25. He soon became a lecturer of anatomy at St. George’s hospital and published his globally acclaimed work at the age of 31.
Emil Theodor Kocher (1841 – 1917)
One of the most famous doctors in the history of medicine, Emil Theodor Kocher was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work involving the thyroid gland. He was a marvelous researcher and wrote many journals on aseptic treatments, surgical infectious diseases and gunshot wounds. He also did meaningful research in the fields of strangulated hernia and abdominal surgery. There are many surgical instruments named after Kocher. The famous Kocher-Debre-Semelaigne syndrome is also named after him.
Christiaan Eijkman (1858 – 1930)
A world renowned Dutch physician, Christiaan Eijkman started studying medicine in 1875 and earned his doctorate in 1883. After working as a medical officer of health on the Java islands. Eijkman was sent back to Europe on a sick leave and he started working in the laboratories of E. Forester and Robert Koch in Amsterdam and Berlin. Later, he came in contact with C. Winkler and Pekelharing and joined them in the mission of investigating beriberi in Batavia (Jakarta) sponsored by the government of Netherlands. It was here that Eijkman accidentally discovered the true nature of beriberi. He observed that chickens that were fed refined rice showed symptoms of beriberi and those that ate unrefined rice were not affected. This observation led to the conclusion that beriberi was not contagious or caused by blood transfusions. It occurred due to an unstable diet and a deficiency of vitamin B1.
Charles Horace Mayo (1865 – 1939)
One of the most famous American doctors, Charles Mayo was one of the founders of the world’s most famous medical clinic; Mayo Clinics. Today, Mayo Clinic is a globally known non-profit medical organization which has its headquarters in Rochester, Minnesota. His contributions in the field of cataract, nervous system and thyroid surgeries have proved immensely helpful for doctors of future generation. With his brother William James Mayo he was one of the pioneers in making sure modern medicine was available to the one in need.
Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955)
One of the most influential personalities in the field of medicine, Alexander Fleming is remembered as the discoverer of penicillin, a drug that destroys harmful bacteria causing syphilis, gangrene and tuberculosis. In addition to this discovery, his research on bacteriology, immunology and chemotherapy is considered nothing less than a miracle. Though, penicillin is hailed as a miracle drug it was discovered by accident. Before going on a month’s vacation, Dr. Fleming had left several bacteria cultures growing in various dishes. After returning, he noticed all the dishes except one were contaminated with fungus. He successfully isolated the non-contaminated fungus and found out that it belonged to the Penicillium group. His research was received with a mixed reaction but slowly it was recognized and penicillin was hailed as a magic drug.
Frederick Banting (1891 – 1941)
This name is in the prayers of almost anyone who knows about diabetes. Frederick Banting is credited as the co-founder of insulin with his assistant Charles Herbert Best. Dr. Banting started his career with the army in World War I. After the war, he started his own practice and also taught medicine. It was common knowledge that lack of insulin in the body causes diabetes. After realizing the shortcomings of the previous experiments, Banting with the cooperation of Dr. Charles Best devised a successful procedure of extracting insulin from the pancreas, thereby discovering a method of controlling the sugar levels in diabetic people. In 1932, Banting and his partner Dr. John Macleod received the Nobel Prize for their hard work in the field of medicine.
Alfred Blalock (1899 – 1964)
Another great name whose contributions opened doors to a new era in the world of medicine. Dr. Alfred Blalock started his career as a resident surgeon in the Vanderbilt University Hospital and also did part-time teaching job. After spending enough time in residency and teaching, he decided to get into research. Blalock started working on the nature and treatment of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock and observed that they usually occur due to severe loss of blood from the system. He performed experiments on dogs and encouraged the usage of blood plasma or blood products as treatment for the shocks. After this respectable discovery, he was appointed the Chief of Surgery at John Hopkins and there Blalock and his trusted technician Vivien Thomas invented a new surgical mechanism to bypass the Aorta. With the help of Dr. Helen B. Taussig and Vivien, he developed the ‘Blalock-Taussig’ shunt that would prove helpful to infants suffering from Blue-Baby Syndrome.
Benjamin Spock (1903 – 1998)
Dr. Spock is credited for sparking a revolution of confidence among the moms of the United States. His book “Baby and Child Care” is one of the best-selling books of all time. With this book he taught mothers to believe in themselves and not in doctors who claimed that a medical professional is the best judge of their child’s well-being. Dr. Spock was one of the first pediatricians to understand the psychoanalysis of children, their needs and the overall family dynamics. After many years of observing discipline enforced on kids and child rearing, Dr. Spock’s theory that parents should be more affectionate towards their children and treat them like responsible people were path breaking, no matter how simple and obvious this process seems today.
Charles Drew (1904 – 1950)
One of the most famous African-American doctors during the US segregation period, Dr. Drew got his M.D. in 1933 and started working at Columbia University where he was the first African-American to earn a Doctor of Medical Science degree. He is still remembered for his groundbreaking innovations in blood transfusions that helped saved millions of lives. Looking at his excellence, he was made the director of ‘Blood for Britain’: the first blood bank project established during World War II to aid British soldiers. He also protested against racial discrimination in blood donation, and was removed from service temporary. He also authored 19 papers among which the majority focused on blood transfusions and his brilliant research in the field of medicine is still referred by physicians around the world.
Virginia Apgar (1909 – 1974)
This miracle woman is best known for developing the Apgar Newborn Scoring System (Apgar Score), a simple method to check the vitality of a newborn. After doing her graduation from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, she completed her residency and became the director of the newly Formed Division of Anesthesia at Columbia in 1938. It was in 1949 that she came up with Apgar Score which helped reduced the mortality rate of infants and saved millions of lives. This score determines the heath of a newborn on the basis of five factors: Appearance, Pulse, Activity, Respiration, and Grimace. Due to her expertise in the fields of teratology and anesthesiology, she played an important role in developing the field of neonatology (a branch of pediatrics for studying the medical condition of a premature or an ill newborn).
Jonas Salk (1914 – 1995)
This miracle man was born in New York City and was the son of Jewish Russian immigrants. He studied microbiology at NYU’s School of Medicine, where he worked hard to develop the vaccine for influenza. In 1947 he started teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, where he developed the polio vaccine. Although many doctors had tried to develop a vaccine for polio earlier, Dr. Salk was the first one to achieve success. His contributions in the field of medicine ensured that the polio virus was eradicated and people would not require the use of braces to walk.
Christiaan Neethling Barnard (1922 – 2001)
After completing his internship and residency at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, Dr. Barnard began his career as a cardiothoracic surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital in 1958, where he established the hospital’s first heart unit. Soon he was working as a full-time lecturer and Director of Surgical Research at the University of Cape Town. Gradually, word of Barnard’s brilliance spread and soon he was known as an exceptional surgeon that made immense contributions in the treatments of cardiac conditions. After performing the first successful kidney transplant in 1953, he started experimenting with the concept of animal heart transplants. Under his supervision, more than 50 dogs received heart transplants. After years of research, he performed the world’s human heart transplant in 1967. The operation lasted 9 hours and required a team of 30 people. Although the patient died after 18 days due to pneumonia complications, Barnard’s achievement was hailed as an important landmark in the field of medicine.
Carlo Urbani (1956 – 2003)
He is the man that identified SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) as a highly contagious disease and warned the WHO (World Health Organization) to take strict action against it. Urbani was working as an infectious disease expert at a WHO office in Hanoi. In February 2003, he was called in to check a bad influenza case. After looking at the patient, Urbani realized that it wasn’t flu but a new and dangerous disease which is highly contagious in nature. He immediately alerted the WHO and Vietnamese government and effective measures were taken to control the spread. Due to his amazing and valiant efforts millions of lives were saved and the growth of SARS was controlled.
George Richards Minot (1885 – 1950)
George Richards Minot is one of the brilliant physicians who shared the Noble Prize in medicine with William P. Murphy and George Hoyt Whipple for discovering the treatment of pernicious anemia or PA. Born into a medical family, he was interested in medicine from an early age and was particularly curious about blood disorders. During his research, he found out that anemia was caused due to the malfunctioning of the bone marrow which was indirectly connected to poor dietary habits. Minot was also impressed with Dr. George Whipple’s experiment of curing anemia in dogs by feeding red meat. He decided to conduct a similar experiment on anemia patients and it proved successful. Minot and Murphy also played an important role in the discovery of ‘Fraction G’ (pure liver extracts) which could be injected or administered orally to patients.
Alois Alzheimer (1864 – 1915)
One of the most prominent German physicians of his time, Alois Alzheimer’s is credited for discovering the first published case of ‘Presenile Dementia’. After completing his medical degree from Würzburg University, Alois began assisting mental patients and later started working at a mental asylum in Frankfurt am Main. It was here that he met Dr. Franz Nissl whose research in the field of neurology played an important role in Alzheimer’s future success. While working at the asylum, Dr. Alzheimer became particularly interested in Auguste Deter who was suffering from strange behavioral symptoms. Eventually, she became the first documented case of presenile dementia and after her death, senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles were found in her brain. This new discovery proved to be extremely useful and for the first time pathology and clinical symptoms of a condition were presented together, which was a remarkable feat.
Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)
One of the most important figures in the history of medicine, Paracelsus was a German polymath who made remarkable contributions in the field of science and is credited for naming zinc, calling it zincum. He pioneered the usage of chemical elements and minerals in medicine. He also advocated the usage of minerals and herbs in daily diet for optimum health. Also known as the ‘Father of Toxicology’, he was the first one to differentiate between toxic and non-toxic elements in human surroundings. He is also known for writing ‘On the Miners’, a book about all the sicknesses contracted through metal exposure.
Carl Wood (1929 – 2011)
Dr. Wood was a renowned Australian gynecologist known for developing and commercializing the IVF or (In-Vitro Fertilization) technique. He first made headlines in the 70s for his brilliant research and work in the fields of obstetric physiology, gynecology and fetal monitoring. However, it was the first IVF breakthrough that got him universal acclaim. Carl Wood and his team made headlines with the world’s first IVF pregnancy 1973, developing the worlds first IVF baby using a frozen embryo 1983, the first donor egg baby 1983, developing the first IVF baby using sperm retrieval surgery 1986, and in 1992 the world’s first Microinjection Intra Fallopian Transfer IVF baby.
Harvey Cushing (1869 – 1939)
Known as the ‘Father of Modern Neurological Surgery’, Harvey Cushing was inclined towards medicine from an early age and is credited in bringing bold and improved innovations in the field of medicine and surgery. He began his medical career by working at the John Hopkins hospital and wrote several papers on the spine and strongly advocated the use of anesthesia. He also developed theories on the effects of blood pressure which are used even today. Cushing is commonly associated his most famous discovery, the Cushing’s Disease. In this condition, the pituitary gland releases an excess amount of adrenocorticotropic hormone which gradually develops in a tumor.
Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761)
A prominent French physician who is credited for being the ‘Father of Modern Dentistry’, Pierre Fauchard was the pioneer of various medical practices that are still used today. He also authored the book Le chirurgien dentiste (The Surgeon Dentist), in which he explains the basics of oral anatomy, methods of treating decayed teeth, tooth transplantation, and orthodontics. He was the first one to introduce the concept of dental fillings and dental prosthetics. Fauchard is also the inventor of dental braces. Initially they were made of gold, but when he discovered that teeth can be aligned with the help of wires, he started using wax linen or silk.
Norman Bethune (1890 – 1939)
A Canadian physician who dedicated his entire career for the welfare of humanity. Dr. Bethune is credited for the development of the first mobile blood-transfusion service in Spain in 1936 for helping the soldiers of the Spanish Republican government. His discovery helped saved millions of lives in the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, he traveled to China and helped established modern medical facilities and also trained the young generation in basic medical techniques. Before he went to Spain, Dr. Bethune also invented many surgical instruments which are used even today. In order to ensure that the best medical care is available to poor people, he opened a free clinic for tuberculosis-infected patients.
William James Mayo (1861 – 1939)
A brilliant American surgeon and one of the founding members of the Mayo Clinic, the world will always be indebted to his dedication and endless service in the field of medicine. William Mayo began his medical career at a young age under the guidance of his father, who also was a noted surgeon. After completing his education, he started assisting his father and took control over his father’s clinic with his brother. The Mayo brothers along with Starr Judd, Henry Plummer, Melvin Millet, Donald Balfour and Dr. Graham formed the world’s first private integrated group practice. He also served as a Colonel and a Chief Adviser of the medical services and was made the Chairman of the American Physician for Medical Preparedness in 1916.
Charles Best (1899 – 1978)
An American-Canadian scientist best remembered as the co-founder of insulin with Dr. Fredrick Banting. He was an important part of the research team but he did not qualify to win the Nobel prize because he hadn’t completed his graduation. However, Dr. Banting was highly impressed with Best’s hard work shared the Nobel Prize with him. Dr. Best is also credited for the discovery of the vitamin ‘choline’ and the enzyme ‘histaminase’.
Jean-Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893)
Considered the ‘Napoleon of ‘Neuro-Sciences’, Jean-Martin Charcot was one of the few names that is synonymous with greatness. He was one of the few pioneers of neurology and was the first one to identify and describe multiple sclerosis. He defined it as a condition that would damage the sheaths of the spinal cord and brain resulting in seizures, disability and improper movements. In addition to neurology, Jean-Martin Charcot is known for his extensive work on hypnosis and hysteria. He was also the first one to describe Charcot joint and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Allen Whipple (1881 – 1963)
Another respected American surgeon, Allen Whipple is known for introducing the treatment of conditions affecting the pancreas. This treatment was known as pancreaticoduodenectomy or Whipple’s Procedure. After completing his education, Whipple began working on the surgical removal of the pancreas and was successful in 1935. Five years later, he shortened the procedure into a single step process. He is also credited for developing the Whipple’s triad for diagnosing insulinoma.
James Parkinson (1755 – 1824)
Though James Parkinson was active and highly interested in geology, paleontology and politics, its his contributions in the medical field that have made him a public figure. He was the first person who systematically described six cases of paralysis agitans in his essay titled ‘An Essay on the Shaking Palsy.’ The essay describes the conditions of six people who were not his patients. Parkinson observed them daily or simply gathered their medical history from a simple inquiry. It was Jean-Martin Charcot who named the condition Parkinson’s disease to honor his hard work.
Carlos Chagas (1879 – 1934)
One of the most brilliant minds of his time, Carlos Chagas is credited for discovering Chagas disease or American trypanosomiasis which is prevalent in Latin America. After completing his M.D. Carlos Chagas started working at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute and was sent to nearby location to tackle large number of malaria cases. There he observed the infestation of the ‘Kissing Bug’ and discovered that the intestines of these insects contain Trypanosoma (parasitic protozoa) which could be transferred to the victim if bitten by the bug. He suspected that this parasite could affect humans and after doing some thorough research, he completed the pathology of this new disease.
Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)
One of the most controversial and respected figures in medicine, Dr. Sigmund Freud is also known as the ‘Father of Psychoanalysis’. His theories and research in the fields of psychotherapy and neurology still fascinates scholars all around the world. He was a great believer in hypnosis and often used it to treat mentally-ill patients. He also devised the ‘tripartite’ version of the mind which helped him have a better understanding of the psychological development of the brain. His interest in understanding repressed sexual thoughts in children was considered as an evil practice and faced much criticism from students and various science departments. It was much later, that his research found admiration and Freud’s work became an important part of psychology.
Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878 – 1937)
Samuel Wilson was a brilliant pathologist and made important contributions in the field of neurology. His most famous discovery is the description of hepatolenticular degeneration in his gold medal winning M.D. thesis titled ‘Progressive Lenticular Degeneration’. In this condition copper starts accumulating in tissues which damages the liver and the person also suffers from neurological and psychiatric symptoms. To honor his research, hepatolenticular degeneration later came to be known as Wilson’s disease. Dr. Wilson is also globally recognized for his contributions in the field of epilepsy, narcolepsy, speech disorders and apraxia.
Thomas Hodgkin (1798 – 1866)
Considered to be one of the most prominent pathologists of his time, Thomas Hodgkin is best known for the discovery of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After completing his M.D. Hodgkin worked in various areas of medicine and it was only in 1832, that he first described his world famous discovery. While working at Guy’s hospital, he studied seven patients who suffered from painless lymph nodes enlargement and submitted his research in a report entitled, ‘On some morbid appearances of the Absorbent Glands and Spleen’ which went unnoticed. Three decades later, Samuel Wilks researched on the same subject and after coming across Hodgkin’s work named the disease in his honor.
John Langdon Down (1828 – 1896)
John Langdon Down is best known for his discovery of a genetic disorder which is now known as Down syndrome. After completing his M.D. in London, he started working as an assistant physician at the London Hospital. He first described Down syndrome as a mental illness in 1862 and published a detailed report in 1866 titled, “Observations on the Ethnic Classification of Idiots”. Though the report largely emphasized on its symptoms and affects and displayed no mention of its cause, he is often credited as the discoverer. It was only in 1958 that an extra chromosome was discovered to be actual cause of Down syndrome, this discovery was made by Jérôme Lejeune with the help of karyotype techniques.
Sir Magdi Habib Yacoub (1935)
A master of the Ross procedure and currently serving as the Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Imperial College London, Dr. Yacoub is one of the most important figures in the world of cardiac conditions. He is credited in pioneering the modern arterial switch operation, making UK a leading center for heart transplantation, advocating the usage of left ventricle assist devices, performing the first UK live lobe lung transplantation, and establishing the Chain of Hope Charity that provides cardiothoracic surgical care to the developing countries.
George Huntington (1850 – 1916)
An extremely talented physician, George Huntington was the first person to give a thorough clinical description of a condition which is now called Huntington’s disease. Originally called ‘chorea’ because of the irregular muscle actions it causes in the body, Huntington was defined many times by different physicians. However, it was George Huntington’s classic paper that reveals the actual effects of the condition and it particularly impressed Sir William Osler who lauded it with positive praise.
William Osler (1849 – 1919)
A renowned medical practitioner, William Osler is remembered as the ‘Father of Modern Science’ and was one of the founding members of John Hopkins Hospital. History will always remember Osler for the revolutionary changes he brought in the medicinal field. He started the concept of medical residency and taught medical students to speak and interact with patients to establish a healthy rapport. He also wrote various books in his time which are still extremely popular and his most of his coveted work can be found in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. He also conceived the Postgraduate Medical Association and acted as its first President.
It is because of the courageous efforts of these professionals that millions of lives are being saved on a daily basis. These doctors worked tirelessly for years for the betterment of humanity and by looking through their miraculous feats it is clear that working for the betterment of mankind is one of the most humane things to do.