1. Albin MS. Letter to the editor, regarding "an early recollection of M. Gazi Yasargil." Neurosurgery Report. January 31, 2012. Accessed January 11, 2016.
  2. Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Annual Meeting Archives 1986. Honored guest: M. Gazi Yasargil. Accessed January 11, 2016.
  3. Tew JM Jr. M. Gazi Yaşargil: neurosurgery's man of the century. Neurosurgery. 1999;45:1010-1014.
  4. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  5. Francis Crick—biographical. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  6. James Watson—biographical. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  7. Dr. James Watson. Archives at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Accessed January 25, 2016.
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  11. The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  12. Noble HB. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 78, dies; psychiatrist revolutionized care of the terminally ill. New York Times. August 26, 2004. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  13. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. Changing the Face of Medicine, National Library of Medicine. Accessed January 25, 2016.
  14. National Women's History Museum. Elizabeth Blackwell. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  15. E. Donnall Thomas—biographical. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  16. "Father of bone marrow transplantation," Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, dies. Office of the Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. October 24, 2012. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  17. Gellene D. E. Donnall Thomas, who advanced bone marrow transplants, dies at 92. New York Times. October 21, 2012. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  18. Joseph E. Murray—biographical. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  19. Komaroff A. Remembering Dr. Joseph Murray, a surgeon who changed the world of medicine. Harvard Health Blog. November 28, 2012. Accessed January 12, 2016.
  20. Tribute to David Sackett. McMaster University. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  21. Dr. David L. Sackett: father of evidence-based medicine. CMAJ. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  22. In memoriam: Dr David Sackett, founding chair of the Cochrane Collaboration. Cochrane Canada. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  23. Richmond C. Dame Cicely Saunders. BMJ. 2005;331:238.
  24. Richmond C. Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, dies. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  25. Barker D. Obituary: Dame Cicely Saunders. The Guardian. July 16, 2005. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  26. Dame Cicely Saunders. St. Christopher's. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  27. Stanton J. Obituary: Dr Cicely Williams. The Independent. July 15, 1992. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  28. Cicely Williams. Caribbean Icons in Science, Technology and Innovation. National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean Council for Science and Technology (CCST). Accessed January 13, 2016.
  29. Krawinkel M. Kwashiorkor is still not fully understood. Bull World Health Organ. 2003;81:910-911.
  30. Ciccone J. Farewell, Charles D. Kelman, MD. ASCRS Eyeworld. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  31. Nagourney E. Dr. Charles Kelman, 74; made cataract removal easier. New York Times. June 5, 2004. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  32. Obstbaum SA. Charles D. Kelman, MD (1930-2004). Arch Ophthalmol. 2005;123:287-288.
  33. Moncayo A. Carlos Chagas: biographical sketch. Acta Trop. 2010;115:1-4.
  34. The kiss of death: Chagas disease in the Americas. University of Texas. Accessed January 14, 2016.
  35. Moncayo A. Commentary: the lucid reasoning of Carlos Chagas. Int J Epidemiol. 2008;37:695-696.
  36. Lewinsohn R. Prophet in his own country: Carlos Chagas and the Nobel Prize. Perspect Biol Med. 2003;46:532-549. Accessed January 14, 2016.
  37. Fordham MS. Carl Jung. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2015. Accessed January 14, 2016.
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  39. Dr. Druker's Profile. OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Accessed January 14, 2016.
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  44. Topol E. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York, NY: Basic Books; 2012.
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  46. Wilcox CM. Fifty years of gastroenterology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham: a Festschrift for Dr. Basil I. Hirschowitz. Am J Med Sci. 2009;338:84-88. Accessed January 16, 2016.
  47. Booth CC. What has technology done to gastroenterology? Gut. 1985:1088-1094.
  48. Groll Hirschowitz syndrome. National Institute of Health. Accessed January 16, 2016.
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  52. J. Robin Warren—biographical. Accessed January 16, 2016.

Contributor Information

Steven Rourke
Freelance writer

Disclosure: Steven Rourke has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Grace Ellis

Disclosure: Grace Ellis has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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The 50 Most Influential Physicians in History, Part 2: #35-#21

Steven Rourke; Grace Ellis  |  February 19, 2016

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Slide 1

In this second part of a four-part series, we continue our examination of the leaders in medicine throughout history whose accomplishments have helped define medical knowledge and practice as we know it. From Dr Mahmut Gazi Yaşargil to Dr Barry J. Marshall, read up on these outstanding thinkers and accomplished clinicians, as we review their specific contributions and ponder what made them stand apart.

Compiling a ranking of the most influential physicians throughout history is a perilous undertaking, because any such list is inherently subjective, arbitrary, and open to debate. Still, we hope that you will enjoy viewing the list, and we invite you to submit your nominations and feedback in our reader survey.

Image from Dreamstime

Slide 2

Mahmut Gazi Yaşargil (1925–)

Originally from the remote southeastern corner of Turkey, Mahmut Gazi Yaşargil is celebrated as one of the founding fathers of microsurgery and a pioneer in the field of neurologic surgery.

During his early medical training in Germany, Yaşargil was influenced by the emerging field of psychiatry before turning his attention to cerebral anatomy; physiology; and, ultimately, neurologic surgery. He honed his skills at the Microvascular Laboratory of the University of Vermont in the 1960s, where he collaborated with Dr R.M. Peardon Donaghy—a meeting of minds that helped create microsurgery.[1] Yaşargil earned a reputation for surgical dexterity and skill in developing tools to further his techniques, including the floating microscope, the self-retaining adjustable retractor, and ergonomic aneurysm clips and appliers, as well as various microsurgical instruments.[2]

With these innovations, he transformed surgical practice and outcomes, in many cases presenting options for patients who had previously been considered inoperable.[3]

Yaşargil also advanced the field of angiography and his work on subarachnoid spaces was influential in neurosurgery.[2]

Images from Dreamstime, courtesy of Johnpaul Jones/University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Slide 3

Francis Crick (1916-2004)
James Watson (1928–)
Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004)
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

In 1962, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material."[4] Although they were not physicians, it's hard to overlook the work of these scientists whose work has had such far-ranging influence over medicine.

Francis Crick's advanced studies were disrupted by the Second World War, but after an internship at the Medical Research Council, he completed his PhD thesis, titled "X-ray Diffraction: Polypeptides and Proteins," at Cambridge University. Crick's collaboration with the young James Watson led to the theory of the double-helical structure for DNA and the replication scheme, described in 1953.[5]

A native of Chicago, James Watson combined his interests in ornithology, zoology, and genetics to earn his PhD from the University of Indiana, where he studied the effect of hard X-rays on bacteriophage multiplication.[6] After the discovery of the double helix, Dr Watson dedicated much of his career to the study of the gene and wrote a series of widely used textbooks.[7]

Maurice Wilkins was born in New Zealand and educated in the United Kingdom. His PhD thesis was "a study of thermal stability of trapped electrons in phosphors, and on the theory of phosphorescence, in terms of electron traps with continuous distribution of trap depths."[8] By sharing his X-ray diffraction images with Crick and Watson, Wilkins contributed to the understanding of DNA structure.

Rosalind Franklin's pioneering research was an important factor in the discovery of the structure of DNA, although her contribution has been in part overlooked.[9] Franklin's accomplished career in molecular biology was tragically cut short by her death from ovarian cancer at the age of 37.

Images from Dreamstime, Alamy, Associated Press

Slide 4

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004)

Long ignored by medical professionals, death and dying was the central focus of Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's career.

Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, proposed that death be considered a normal passage of life and established five phases of grief through which she believed a dying person passed: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.[10] Her book, On Death and Dying, published in 1969, became a standard text for healthcare professionals with terminally ill patients.

Kübler-Ross transformed the discourse surrounding death, confronting age-old taboos and helping to ease the difficulty with which patients, families, and healthcare professionals discussed terminal sickness, mortality, and death. She was also influential in improving end-of-life care—for the dying and their families, as well as the medical teams caring for them.[11,12]

Images from Dreamstime, Associated Press, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Slide 5

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)

Dr Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States when, in 1849, she graduated first in her class from the Geneva Medical School in New York. She was a trailblazer who helped open the medical profession to women.

Born in England but moving to the United States at an early age, Blackwell confronted discrimination throughout her life and helped train subsequent generations of women in the practice of medicine at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, which she opened with her sister, Dr Emily Blackwell, and her colleague Dr Marie Zakrzewska.[13]

Blackwell wrote about her experiences in Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, in which she relates the challenges of pursuing a career in medicine as a woman, and the hostility that she experienced—both in the United States and in Europe.[14] Blackwell reportedly decided to become a doctor after a dying friend confided that she felt she would have suffered less had her physician been a woman.[13]

Images courtesy of National Institutes of Health

Slide 6

E. Donnall Thomas (1920-2012)
Joseph Murray (1919-2012)

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1990 was awarded jointly to Drs Joseph Murray and E. Donnall Thomas "for their discoveries concerning organ and cell transplantation in the treatment of human disease."[15]

Thomas established bone marrow transplantation as a successful method to treat leukemia and other blood disorders, which led to the practice of bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants for several conditions, including as a cure for severe aplastic anemia, thalassemia, and sickle cell disease in patients with well-matched donors.[16] Despite initial failure, Thomas discovered the importance of matching tissue types between patient and donor as well as the necessity of using immunosuppression.[17]

Joseph Murray served as a surgeon during the Second World War and, on returning to the United States, led a team of Harvard physicians whose objective was successful organ transplantation.[18] Murray developed early solutions for the dilemma of organ rejection, which helped pave the way for the first kidney transplantation.[19]

Images from Science Photo Library, Eric Miller/AP, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Slide 7

David L. Sackett (1934-2015)

Dr David L. Sackett was a leader in the field of epidemiology and is considered the father of evidence-based medicine. His innovations include the creation of the research framework and methodologies to test healthcare innovations and gauge scientific validity.[20]

Education played a central role in Dr Sackett's career. He helped to usher in the era of evidence-based medicine by guiding clinicians to practice the "current best evidence from research."[20]

Originally from Chicago, Sackett trained in nephrology, internal medicine, and epidemiology before founding North America's first department of epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in 1967.[21] He was the founding director of both the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University (1994) and the Cochrane Collaboration Steering Group (1993).[22]

Images from Dreamstime, courtesy of David L. Sackett, MD

Slide 8

Dame Cicely Saunders (1918-2005)

A qualified nurse, social worker, and "lady almoner" before training as a physician, Dr Cicely Saunders dedicated her career to the care of the dying and founded the first modern hospice in 1967 at St Christopher's Hospital in London. The introduction of the concept of "total pain," which included the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of distress, was one of her many accomplishments.[23]

Saunders was also instrumental in providing effective pain management while implementing thorough care for the varied needs of her patients—insisting that the dying require not only the best-possible medical treatment but also dignity, compassion, and respect.[24] It's unsurprising that Saunders paid close attention to the patient narrative and is remembered as an excellent listener.

To further well-being in her hospice, Saunders abolished the notion of visiting hours. She allowed the patient to share time with family and friends, as desired.

Through her life work, Saunders transformed the way we look at death and dying.[25,26]

Images from Dreamstime, Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images

Slide 9

Cicely D. Williams (1893-1992)

The first Jamaican-born woman to earn a medical degree—graduating from Oxford University just after World War I—Dr Cicely D. Williams was a pioneering pediatrician whose career spanned the globe. She died just short of her 100th birthday.

Williams managed to forge ahead at a time when the medical profession was all but closed to women. She received many postings in hospital settings throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, where her love of children underpinned the advances she made in pediatric care.[27]

In the 1920s, during her time in the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), Williams correctly diagnosed protein deficiency as the cause of an illness common in young children. She adopted the term "kwashiorkor" (or "displaced child" in the Ga language) for the ailment[28]—which is still being studied [29]—and throughout her career continued to emphasize nutrition, education, and the prevention of childhood diseases.

Williams was a vocal proponent of breastfeeding and campaigned against misinformation from multinational corporations that marketed substitutes. She is also celebrated for having developed integrated and curative health services for children and mothers.

Images from Dreamstime, courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wellcome Images

Slide 10

Charles D. Kelman (1930-2004)

Dr Charles D. Kelman gave the gift of sight to millions of people by advancing the standard of care for the treatment of cataracts and developing innovative techniques and technologies for extracting them—including the cryoprobe, phacoemulsification, and extracapsular cataract extraction.[30]

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Kelman dreamed of a career in music and tinkered with standup comedy before turning his energies to medicine.[31] His New York Times obituary suggested that his combination of performance skills, business acumen, drive to educate, and extroversion made him a natural for popular media—and helped spread his fame.[31] Kelman made many television appearances with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, and David Letterman.[31]

Kelman's innovations and drive in the field of ophthalmology revolutionized the care of cataracts, transformed the specialty, and improved the lives of millions.[32]

Image from Dreamstime, Science Source, courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association

Slide 11

Carlos Chagas (1878-1933)

Brazilian physician Dr Carlos Chagas gained international fame at a young age for his groundbreaking discovery of the causal agent, vector, and clinical features of human cases of American trypanosomiasis.[33]

At the time of his discovery in the early years of the 20th century, Chagas—who had completed his medical studies with a thesis on hematologic aspects of malaria—was investigating an outbreak of malaria in a remote corner of Minas Gerais.[34]

While studying a flagellate parasite in primates isolated from triatomine insects, Chagas observed the presence of these same insects in the homes of people who complained of nighttime bites. He then made the connection with a local condition, common in children, that was associated with episodic fever; anemia; palpable edema; spleen enlargement; swollen lymph nodes; and, in some extreme cases, cardiac issues. This condition is now known as "Chagas disease."[35]

The methodology of Chagas's research and the specific order in which he made his discovery were unique at the time and helped create new paradigms in parasitology and epidemiology, while leading to important improvements in public health and disease control.[36]

Images from Dreamstime, courtesy of National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Slide 12

Carl Jung (1875-1961)

As the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung's influence over psychology, psychiatry, medicine, and culture at large is unmistakable. Among his long list of accomplishments, Jung's prolific career gave us the concepts of the introverted and extroverted personalities and the notion of the collective unconscious, as well as extensive contributions to the study and interpretation of religion, literature, history, and culture.[37]

On the basis of his family background, Jung was perhaps destined to become a priest.[38] He opted instead for medicine, launching a career in psychiatry. Branching out from Sigmund Freud's school of thought to new concepts and psychotherapeutic methods, Jung helped develop 20th-century discourse to describe the subconscious mind. Many of his theories and part of his vocabulary continue to fuel research in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, and far beyond.[38]

Images from Dreamstime, courtesy of National Institutes of Health

Slide 13

Brian Druker (1955–)

With the development of imatinib—a drug that targets specific cancer-causing molecules, eliminating cancer cells while avoiding serious damage to noncancerous ones—Dr Brian Druker transformed the treatment of myeloid leukemia, raising patient survival rates from 50% to 90%.[39] The success of imatinib revolutionized approaches to cancer treatment by introducing the notion of targeted therapies, a feat for which Druker, along with Drs Nicholas Lydon and Charles L. Sawyers, were rewarded with the 2009 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.[40]

Druker is also noted for having cofounded the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute, a leading center in the fight against cancer that, in collaboration with philanthropists Phil and Penny Knight, recently achieved the remarkable feat of raising $1 billion for research.

Druker has been instrumental in unveiling an unimagined possibility: that cancer can be transformed to a manageable disease.[41]

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Slide 14

Eric Topol (1954–)

The founder of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Dr Topol is now director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California. While chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, he and his colleagues were the first to raise concerns about the cardiovascular safety of rofecoxib (Vioxx),[42] which led to its eventual withdrawal from the market. In an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine,[43] Topol took the US Food and Drug Administration to task for lax oversight and long delays between the first reports of serious safety concerns and regulatory action.

Dr Topol has been on the forefront of both the genomic and digital revolutions in medicine, tackling both subjects in a widely acclaimed book titled The Creative Destruction of Medicine (Basic Books; 2012).[44] He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and in 2016 was recognized as one of the top 15 most cited researchers in the world.[45]

Dr Topol also serves as editor-in-chief of Medscape.

Images from Dreamstime, Daniel Hulshizer/AP

Slide 15

Basil Hirschowitz (1925-2013)

A native of South Africa, where he undertook his initial training in physiology and medicine, Dr Basil Hirschowitz wrote his PhD dissertation—on the physiology of pepsin and pepsinogen secretion—in the United Kingdom. He completed internships in cardiology and gastroenterology—the latter with Dr Avery Jones, a fellow pioneer in in the realm of gastroenterology and endoscopy.[46]

Collaborating with countless researchers and clinical professionals, spanning time spent at the University of Michigan, Temple University, and the University of Alabama, Hirschowitz was guided by his goal of improving techniques of visualization of the gastrointestinal tract. He was adept at establishing partnerships to encourage emerging technologies—such as the rods of optical glass by Dow Corning that helped lead to the creation of the flexible fiberoptic endoscopy.[47]

Hirschowitz also contributed to research to diagnose the rare genetic condition known as Groll-Hirschowitz syndrome.[48]

Images from Dreamstime, courtesy of National Institutes of Health

Slide 16

Barry J. Marshall (1951–)
J. Robin Warren (1937–)

Drs Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2005 "for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease."[49]

By theorizing that gastritis and peptic ulcer disease are communicable diseases caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, Marshall and Warren—in common with most influential physicians—challenged prevailing dogmas and met with initial disbelief. They established the veracity of this causative link using clinical and epidemiologic studies. Their discovery led to simple and effective treatment options in 90% of cases for a disease that had previously been considered the result of stress and lifestyle.[50]

Born in Western Australia, where he studied medicine and surgery, Marshall is the recipient of numerous other awards and distinctions and is a professor at the University of Western Australia.[51] His initial interest in sports and environmental medicine took a back seat to gastroenterology and advanced clinical studies when he met Warren during his early rotations.

Warren, an Australian pathologist, earned his MBBS from the University of Adelaide. In the 1970s, Warren developed an interest in gastric biopsies, working to improve bacterial stains, which eventually led to the discovery of bacteria growing on the surface of gastric biopsy specimens.[52] An ideal fusion of minds and skills came about in 1981, when Warren and Marshall started their collaboration.

Images from Dreamstime, Jonas Ekstromer/Pressens Bild/AP

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