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The Most Influential People in the History of Medicine

By Tapang786

Medicine has evolved enormously since ancient times, but it would never have been possible without the hard work of these men and women.

1. Hippocrates (c. 460–377 BCE)

Known as the father of medicine, Hippocrates wrote the oath that bears his name. Although it has been modified over the years, this text, considered a pillar of medical ethics, is still recited by medical graduates around the world.

During his lifetime, the Greek physician highlighted the importance of observing clinical signs before making a diagnosis. According to Hippocrates, diseases did not have a divine cause—instead, they were caused by a set of factors, including a patient’s age.

2. Avicenna (980–1037)

Avicenna, a Persian philosopher, and physician known in Muslim countries as Ibn Sīnā, wrote The Canon of Medicine, a five-volume medical encyclopedia that has influenced Western medicine for centuries. This large work focuses on the infectious nature of tuberculosis and other diseases.

3. Ambroise Paré (1510–1590)

The father of modern surgery, Ambroise Paré was an army surgeon and a surgeon to several kings of France, including Henry II and Henry III. During his career, Paré invented several surgical instruments and introduced the implantation of artificial limbs made of gold and silver. His most significant discovery was undoubtedly the ligation of arteries, a process much less painful than cauterization with a hot iron, still widely used in the 16th century.

A humanist, Paré is famous for saying: “I don’t care if you’re Catholic or Protestant, rich or poor. I only care what ails you.”

4. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723)

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was passionate about small things. This Dutch microscopist used his homemade microscopes to become the first scientist to observe a bacterium and protozoan. His research also led to the discovery of spermatozoa.

5. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818–1865)

It’s hard to believe that surgeons didn’t always wash their hands before operating on patients. Yet, before discovery by the Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, this practice, now firmly instilled in all health professionals, was not widespread.

The physician made the discovery by comparing the number of deaths in the two maternity wards at the Vienna General Hospital. In the first ward, where the mortality rate was low, midwives delivered the babies. In the second ward, where the number of deaths was higher, deliveries were performed by medical interns. Semmelweis discovered that the students did not wash their hands after performing autopsies in the dissection room, unlike the midwives. As a result, they were unknowingly transmitting diseases to their patients who then contracted infections.

6. Sir Joseph Lister (1827-1912)

The Father of antiseptic surgery, Sir Joseph Lister forever changed the face of modern surgery. This British surgeon used antisepsis (carbolic acid) to dramatically decrease the number of post-operative deaths. Poor sterilization practices of the day caused roughly 35 percent of amputees to die of infections soon after surgery.

While antiseptic procedures have evolved since then, Lister’s principle, that bacteria must never gain entry to an operation wound, still holds true to this day.

7. Christiaan Barnard (1922-2001)

Christiaan Barnard, a South African surgeon, made history on December 3, 1967, when he led a team of surgeons in performing the first human heart transplant in history. Although the patient died 18 days later, Barnard’s later transplant operations were increasingly successful. By the late 1970s, some of his heart transplant patients had survived for several years.

Today, 85 percent of adult heart transplant patients worldwide have a survival rate of one year and 69 percent have a survival rate of five years, a result that would likely be impossible without Dr. Barnard’s contributions.

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