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Five Famously Influential Physicians



Various “medicine men” have played a vital role in advancing our understanding of the human body and mind. Without them, many of our most important modern procedures in medicine, surgery, and psychiatry wouldn’t exist.

Alexander Fleming

Born in Lochfield, Scotland in 1881, Alexander Fleming was a biologist, pharmacologist, and botanist. Although he contributed widely to the fields of bacteriology, immunology, and chemotherapy, he will always be most remembered for discovering penicillin.

Of his discovery in 1928, Fleming would later say that he hadn’t planned to wake up and revolutionize all medicine but “I suppose that’s exactly what I did”. While growing mold in cultures, Fleming discovered that a certain fungus released what he for a long time called “mold juice”; a secretion that killed a number of disease-causing bacteria. Mould juice became penicillin.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in Austria in 1856, is today known as the founding father of psychoanalysis.

Although Freud’s exact methodologies of psychoanalysis are not still strictly followed today, his influence on the field of modern psychiatry, and on popular culture and intellectual thought in general, is undeniable. So much so, that in a poem about him, W.H Auden wrote: “To us, he is no more a person / now but a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives”.

Christiaan Barnard

Christiaan Barnard holds the honor of being the first surgeon to succeed in completing a human-to-human heart transplant. He was born in 1922 in Beaufort West, South Africa.

On December 3, 1967, Barnard, together with his brother Marius Barnard and a team of 30 people, performed a nine-hour operation, transplanting a heart from Denise Darvell, who suffered brain damage in a car accident, to Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old grocer.

Harvey Cushing

Born the youngest of ten children in Cleveland, Ohio in 1869, Harvey Cushing is often referred to today as the father of modern neurosurgery. He was the first person to identify and describe “Cushing’s Syndrome”, a result of high exposure to the hormone cortisol, which often leads to rapid weight gain and thinning of the skin, with easy bruising and dryness.

It was in Baltimore in the early 1900s that Cushing developed a method of operating on patients with local anesthesia. He was subsequently hired as a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School in 1912.

Frederick Banting

Born in Ontario, Canada, Sir Frederick Grant Banting was a scientist, doctor, painter, and Nobel laureate. He played an integral role in the discovery of insulin, as well as making significant headway in the treatment of diabetes. Banting received the Nobel award at the age of 32 in 1923 and is still the youngest Nobel laureate in the field of physiology and medicine.