Important figures in the history of medicine



Important figures in the history of medicine


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Important figures in the history of medicine


Important figures in the history of medicine.

The Ancient world

An Egyptian doctor to the Pharaohs – was worshipped as the god of medicine after his death.

The Egyptian goddess of healing – had the body of a woman and the head of a lion.

The Greek god of healing – people worshipped at Asklepions (most famous of these was at Epidauros) where they believed that he came along and cured the sick. His symbol was a snake around a stick – still used as a medical symbol today.

460 – 380BC. The father of medicine – a cult developed around him and his followers wrote a collection of medical books – the Hippocratic collection (or caucus). He had five key ideas

  • The theory of the four humours
  • Rejection of magic and supernatural explanations of disease.
  • Regimen – the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Ethical behaviour – the Hippocratic oath.
  • Clinical observation – observe, diagnose then treat.

384 – 322BC. A great Greek thinker – wrote about many subjects including medicine. Developed the science of biology – carried out dissections of animals to see how the body worked. Was the first person to see the connection between blood vessels and the heart although he did not tell the difference between veins and arteries.

Herophilios and Erasistratos
Two doctors from Alexandria – Herophilios linked the pulse and the heart for the first time by dissecting human bodies in public. Erasistratos identified the parts of the human brain using the same methods.


Claudius Galen
130 – 201AD. Turkish. Well educated – became famous because he was a great self publicist. Influenced by Hippocrates and the Greeks. Advocated the use of “opposites” when treating disease and blood letting. Made many anatomical observations – cut up pigs and other animals – this meant that he made mistakes. When he died people thought that he could do no wrong – therefore medicine stagnated in Europe after his death for 1000 years. This was something that he would not have approved of.

The dark and middle ages

Venerable Bede
A British monk who lived during the dark ages – wrote a number of books outlining treatments. Showed how the church was important in preserving medical knowledge in this period.

Caliph Harun al-rashid
786 – 809AD. Ruler of the Islamic Empire – set up the first real hospital in Baghdad in 805. Trained people to be doctors there in a system that we would recognise.

864 – 935AD. An Islamic scientist who was the first to recognise the difference between Smallpox and Measles. Became the director of the main hospital in Baghdad and recognised the importance of cleanliness.

Ibn Sina
980 – 1037AD. Produced the first medical encyclopaedia called “The Canon.” In this he summarised all medical knowledge known in the world at that time. Listed the medical properties of over 700 drugs.

The renaissance

Leonardo Da Vinci
1452 – 1519AD. A great Italian thinker during the renaissance – looked at anatomy and came up with the first really detailed anatomical drawings. Influenced the work of Versailius, Pare and Harvey.

Andreas Versailius
1514 – 1564. The first anatomist to challenge Galen – proved that he was wrong. Published his ideas in “The Fabric of the Human Body.” This was one of the first books to take advantage of the invention of the printing press and the advances in art – it had over 200 illustrations. Used the bodies of executed criminals to prove his theories – believed that this was vital to progress instead of just reading textbooks. He was the first to openly say that the great doctors of the past made mistakes. He inspired a a number of his students to follow up his work these included Fallopia (who studied the female reproductive system) Colombo (worked out how the lungs worked – realised bllod changed from dark to light red once it was oxygenised) and Fabricus (studied how the valves of the heart worked).

Ambroise Pare
1510 – 1590. Poor background – became a barber surgeon who were regarded by proper doctors as the lowest of the low. Became a field surgeon. Up to then gunshot wounds were treated with hot oil and cauterised. Pare used this method but then ran out of oil. Instead he used a mix of egg yokes, rose oil and turs. It worked. He also believed in the use of ligatures and sewing up veins. Also pioneered the development of prosthetics (artificial limbs)

William Harvey
1578 – 1657. British discovered that the blood was pumped around the body by the heart – had been discovered 500 years earlier in Iraq but has not known in the west. He discovered that there were seven pints of blood in the body and because of this blood letting could not work – indeed it made the patient worse.

1493 – 1541. Rejected the ideas of Galen and Hippocrates but was considered too “eccentric” to be taken seriously by most doctors.

The fight against infection

Hermann Boerhaave
Dutch – in 1701 he became the father of pathology – finding out why treatments worked of did not work by post-mortem examination.

Dr John Snow
1854 – cholera outbreak in London. Cholera killed many people and was carried in water. Snow was the first to use scientific methods to plot a map to show where cholera cases were breaking out and to pinpoint the cause – in this case an infected standpipe.

Edwin Chadwick
Chair of the Sanitary Reform Movement in the 1840s. Published a report on sanitary conditions in London in 1842 – argued that town councils should borrow money against their rate revinue in order to introduce public health reforms. Pressured the government to introduce the first Public Health Act in 1848. Afterwards he became Chairman of the Central Board for Health but was disliked for his condescending attitude and the CBH was disbanded in 1854. “The Times” in particular campaigned aginst him and his ideas.

Sir John Simon
In 1858 he became the first person to be appointed the Chief medical Officer with responsibility for combining prevention and curing of disease.

George Peabody
An American who provided money to build good house for the poor people of Victorian London.

Octavia Hill
A reformer – her dad had been a campaigner for educational reform. Bought a number of house in London and refurbished them and let them to poor people for a small rent. Also provided an education for the children of her tenants. Became a founder of the National Trust in 1895 and was one of the leading lights behind the Artisans Dwellings Act of 1875.

Edward Jenner
A doctor in Gloucester – discovered that milkmaids did not get smallpox but instead caught cowpox which was not fatal. Took some pus from a cowpox victim and put into a healthy boy. He did not catch smallpox – called his new method Vaccination (Vacca is latin for cow). By 1800 over 100 000 people had been vaccinated against smallpox.

Louis Pasteur
Professor of Chemistry at the University of Lille in France. Proved that micro-organisms caused disease and spread quickly if not controlled – this was called germ theory. Influenced others such as Lister in England. Also discovered a vaccine against rabies and used the work of Koch to isolate the cause of anthrax. Also discovered that the cholera Bacillis could be used a vaccine.

Robert Koch
German scientist – discovered the germ that caused Cholera and TB. Was the great rival of Pasteur and they inspired each other to do better due to the competition between Prussia and France. Used dyes to isolate germs and to identify them. Others followed in his footsteps.

Surgery in the 19th century

Anaesthetics chart

Humphrey Davy

1799 – accidentally discovered that Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) eased pain as a local anaesthetic.

Crawford Long

1842 – first surgeon to use ether in an operation – did not publish until 1849.

Horace Wells

1844 – used Nitrous Oxide in order to extract teeth.

William Morton

1846 – first to use either when extracting a tooth – it lasted longer that Nitrous Oxide.

John Warren

1846 – used ether in an operation to remove growth

Robert Liston

1846 – used ether when amputating a leg. Realised that it was dangerous because it irritated the lining of the lungs

James Simpson

Scottish – used chloroform  to ease pain during childbirth and less dangerous than ether because it was an inflammable gas. Began to use it in general surgery – replaced ether quite rapidly.

Joseph Lister
Read Pasteur germ theory papers in 1867 and experimented in using carbolic acid (which was used to treat sewerage) to soak bandages, as a spray and to clean instruments – death rates went down from 46 to 15%.

William Halsted
The pioneer of aseptic surgery in 1899. Did so because a nurse complained that carbolic acid was hurting her hands – introduced the techniques that we still use today in operation theatres – concentrating on preventing germs from getting there in the first place as opposed to killing them.

Women in medicine

Florence Nightingale
1820 – 1910. Revolutionised the idea of nursing care after observing the conditions in hospitals during the Crimean war. In 1859 published “Notes on nursing” – the bible for nurses and opened up a training school the following year. For the next 30 years she worked tirelessly – became the first woman to awarded the order of merit.

Elizabeth Blackwell
English born but went to America where she qualified as a doctor in 1847. In 1869 returned to England to start a School of Medicine for women.

Elizabeth Garett Anderson
In the 1860s worked as a nurse and attended lectures at the local medical collage. Applied to train as a doctor but every medial school in the land rejected her. Eventually trained privately but male students and lecturers shunned her. The colleges of surgeons and physicians refused to accept her as a member which restricted her chances of getting a job. Eventually opened a large practise in London. Only in 1876 was the medical profession opened up to women.

The twentieth century

Charles Booth
1840 – 1916. A Conservative – read an article saying that poverty in London was at 25% and did his own research – discovered that it was in fact 35%! Published his facts in a number of books called “The life and labour of the people of London.” Bought to public attention the problem of poverty in the early 20th century.

Seebohm Rowntree
1871 – 1954. His dad owned the Rowntrees chocolate factory in York – took over in 1897 and improved working conditions and pay. Was interested in poverty in York and published his findings in 1901. Continued for the rest of his life campaigning for an end to poverty and showed how poverty changed in his lifetime by publishing regular updates on his work.

David Lloyd George
1863 – 1945. A Welshman and elected Liberal MP for Ebbw Vale in 1894 – a radical who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1908. Was responsible for introducing free school meals, Old Age Pensions and national Insurance before the First World War. Became Prime Minister in 1916.

Paul Erlich and Gerhard Domagk
Erlich worked under Koch and discovered the first Magic Bullet – salvarsan 606 in 1908. Domagk discovered that a red dye called protosil could stop blood poisoning. It was more powerful than Salvarsan 606.

Alexander Fleming
A top doctor in England during WW1 – dedicated his life to finding a cure for infections – was one of the first to use Salvarsan 606 in England. In 1928 he made an accidental discovery of penicillin on a discarded Petri dish. He published his findings in 1929 but no one used his work until 10 years later.

Howard Florey and Ernst Chain
Florey rediscovered Flemings work on Penicillin and asked his friend Chain to grow some of the mould and to extract its juices. Tested the juice on a dying policeman and it worked until they ran out of juice and the policeman died. During the war they worked with the American to mass produce it leading to many allied lives being saved.

William Rontgen and Marie Curie
Rontgen discovered X rays in 1895 and Curie used his and her own work to invent the first mobile X-ray machines which were used during the First World War.

Archibold McIndoe
Pioneered the used of burns surgery on pilots during the Second World War at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstread in kent.

William Beveridge
A civil servant who had been instrumental in helping Lloyd George to introduce the Liberal reforms before the First World War. In 1942 produced a report on how the government could introduce a welfare state. Became a Liberal MP in 1944 and his ideas were largely introduced by the Labour government of 1945 to 1951.


Aneurin Bevan
Son of a Welsh coalminer – became o Labour MP in 1929 and rose to become minister of Health in the post war labour government. Is seen as being the father of the NHS when it was introduced in 1948.


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