Sir William Osler

By the turn of the century, Osler was probably the best-known physician in the English-speaking world.
By the turn of the century, Osler was probably the best-known physician in the English-speaking world.

Osler, William
Osler's ongoing influence stems from his humanism and his kindly interest in patients and students. He is considered the embodiment of the sympathetic teacher and the concerned physician (courtesy Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions/William Osler Collection).

Osler, Sir William

 Sir William Osler, physician, writer, educator (b at Bond Head, Canada W 12 Jul 1849; d at Oxford, Eng 29 Dec 1919). His importance stems from his contributions to knowledge in a wide spectrum of clinical fields, his educational activities both in person and through his writings, his stimulation of students who later became leaders of the medical profession, his enthusiastic support of scientific libraries, and his example as a person of integrity, equanimity and sincere humanity. Osler was raised in Bond Head and in Dundas, Canada West, and educated at the University of Toronto and McGill, where he graduated with a MD in 1872. After postgraduate training in England and Europe, he began his teaching career at McGill, lecturing in medicine and pathology, publishing extensively and building an international reputation as an astute and humane clinician. In 1884 he accepted an invitation to join the faculty of U of Pennsylvania, and 5 years later he became the first professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins U in Baltimore.

By the turn of the century, Osler was probably the best-known physician in the English-speaking world. He achieved this position with a combination of superb practice, excellent and innovative teaching, wide-ranging publication, and association with outstanding colleagues in the most advanced school of its time, Johns Hopkins. His professional interests were unusually wide, but he was particularly expert in diagnosis of diseases of the heart, lungs and blood. His textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, first published in 1892 and frequently revised, was considered authoritative for more than 40 years. His description of the inadequacy of treatment methods for most disorders was a major factor leading to the creation of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City.

Osler was an outgoing, vivacious man given to practical jokes and pranks. He knew how to dispel gloom in the sickroom and how to inspire his patients with hope. He advocated changes in the medical curriculum to decrease the amount of lecturing and increase the time students spent with patients. He was one of those who formalized the methods of postgraduate training for physicians, helping to create the system being followed today. Osler married at age 42, his wife being a direct descendant of Paul Revere. One of their 2 children died at birth, the other in WWI. In 1905 the family left North America for Great Britain, where Osler became Regius professor of medicine at Oxford. The recipient of many honorary degrees, he was created a baronet in 1911. His last years were spent carrying on a busy consultant's practice, writing, teaching and building up his extensive library in the history of medicine, which eventually was bequeathed to McGill. In 1919 Osler died of pneumonia developed after a lengthy trip of consultation. His ashes rest in the Osler Library, Montréal. He is still much quoted and his life remains an exemplar for students and physicians.