The Case of the Doctor Whose Brain Was Stronger Than His Heart

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


December 07, 2012


John Hunter, often considered to be the founder of scientific surgery, was mostly self-taught and had little formal medical training. His began his career as an assistant to his older brother but became prominent after deciding to practice independently. His success and eventual fame arose from his observant nature, concern for his patients, and curiosity about all matters relating to medicine.

Many of Hunter's important writings have been lost because his brother-in-law, Sir Everard Home, burned the original manuscripts, presumably because Home had plagiarized some of Hunter's ideas. However, the breadth of Hunter's interests can be appreciated in the large and varied collection of human, animal, and plant material that forms the basis for the Hunterian Museum.

Hunter is interred in Westminster Abbey, where his life is summarized in an inscription that includes the phrase, "Founder of Scientific Surgery." He is buried next to the poet Ben Jonson (the only person in the church to be buried in a standing position). Not far from Hunter's grave is that of Lord Lister, another famous Scottish surgeon who is remembered for his scientific approach to surgery.

Suggested Reading

Kobler J. The Reluctant Surgeon: A Biography of John Hunter. Pleasantville, NY: Akadine Press; 1999.

Mantel H. The Giant, O'Brien. New York: Henry Holt; 1998.

Moore W. The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Life and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery. New York: Broadway Books; 2005.

Web Resources

John Hunter. Whonamedit? A dictionary of medical eponyms.

John Hunter. The Robinson Library.