Blog: CaseNetwork Medical Hall of Fame: Sir William Osler

CaseNetwork Medical Hall of Fame: Sir William Osler


Few in history have impacted the field of medicine to the degree that Osler did from the latter part of the 1800’s through the early 1900’s. Notably, many of those same principles and practices are still being followed in present day medicine.

Sir William Osler is known by most of the medical community as the “Father of American Medicine”, famous for so many of his outstanding contributions to the advancement of medicine in the 20th century and thereafter. His name is used in connection with diseases, syndromes and buildings. He is renowned for the books and articles he wrote and the teaching practices he instituted that educated generations of students during medical school along with physicians during their years of practice. Osler is remembered as a preeminent educator, innovator, internist, pathologist, historian, author, public speaker, bibliophile, humanitarian and practical joker.

Born in Canada, receiving his medical degree from McGill University in Montreal and taking his first professorship there, he continued his medical career first at the University of Pennsylvania, then Johns Hopkins University of Medicine and finally, Oxford University, England. His accomplishments at these prestigious institutions have had a profound impact on the field of medicine and have filled literally hundreds of books and thousands of periodicals and journal articles.

Surely deserving the title “Father of American Medicine”, many of Osler’s contributions have endured for over a century and are still are in place today. He was most proud of his ideas for establishing the first bedside teaching program, pioneered at Johns Hopkins, to take students out of the lecture hall and bring them to the patients’ bedside where they would experience clinical training firsthand.

Some of his other accomplishments include:

  • Created the first formalized journal club at McGill University for the study of medical publications at a group level.
  • Served as Chair of Clinical Medicine at University of Pennsylvania.
  • Co-founded the Association of American Physicians whose purpose was the advancement of scientific and practical medicine.
  • Co-founded Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where he became the first Professor of Medicine and Founder of Medical Services.
  • Created Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s first Residency program for specialty training and clinical clerkship.
  • Wrote what is said to perhaps be the most influential general medical textbook ever published, “Principles and Practices of Medicine, Designed for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine”, Appleton, New York, 1892 (See excerpts from my personal copy of a first edition book).
  • Founded the Medical Library Association in the United States serving as its second president, and in Britain, was the first(and only) President of the Medical Library Association of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Appointed to the Regius Chair, Oxford University, England in 1905 and held that until his death. In 1911, he started the Postgraduate Medical Association there, becoming its first president.
  • Honored with a “baronet” in the 1911 Coronation Honors List for his many outstanding contributions to the field of medicine.
  • Created, established or instituted so many other firsts not being listed or given credit here.

CaseNetwork has based many of its educational philosophies on the past innovations of the “Father of Medicine”in our passionate pursuit to improve the future of medical education. The most important result is CaseNetwork’s case-based training and interactive, decision-oriented learning, which offers students and clinicians “simulated bedside experiences” in the same spirit as Osler’s groundbreaking approach. CaseNetwork also uses a collaborative peer-to-peer learning method with its educational social networks similar to Osler’s original formalized journal clubs.

One of Osler’s most famous essays entitled “Aequanimitas”, delivered at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1889, exemplifies the insights and wisdom he passed on to the physicians and students of his time and for every generation since. He expounded the virtue of imperturbability or the outward expression of calmness, coolness and self-assurance even under the most difficult medical challenges. He also elucidated the virtue of aequanimitas, which is the personal quality of patience, tranquility, equanimity and goodwill. In his essay Aequanimitas he shared the following words:

Whatever way my days decline,
I felt and feel, tho’ left alone,
His being working in mine own,
The footsteps of his life in mine.

I strongly believe that innovations from the past, like those from Sir William Osler, help establish the foundation of the present and shape our responsibilities for the future.

All the best!

Jeffrey S. Levy, MD
CEO, CaseNetwork

(With special thanks to researcher and historian, Patricia L. Stellwagon)

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