About Sir William Osler

Interurban Clinical Club > About Sir William Osler


Celebrating the contributions of William Osler

12 July 1849 – 29 December 1919

William Osler was born in a remote part of Ontario known as Bond Head. He spent a year at Trinity College in Ontario before deciding on a career in medicine. He attended the Toronto Medical College for two years and in 1872 received his M.D. degree from McGill University in Montreal. Like many of his fellow physicians trained in Canada, Osler went abroad for postgraduate study. He studied in London, Berlin, and Vienna before returning to Canada in 1874 and joining the medical faculty at McGill. A year later he was promoted to professor. Osler was elected a fellow of the British Royal College of Physicians in 1883, one of only two Canadian fellows at that time. In 1884 he left Montreal for Philadelphia to become professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

John S. Billings recruited William Osler in 1888 to be physician-in-chief of the soon-to-open Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of medicine at the planned school of medicine. Osler was the second appointed member of the original four medical faculty, following William H. Welch and preceding Howard A. Kelly and William S. Halsted. He revolutionized the medical curriculum of the United States and Canada, synthesizing the best of the English and German systems. Osler adapted the English system to egalitarian American principles by teaching all medical students at the bedside. He believed that students learned best by doing and clinical instruction should therefore begin with the patient and end with the patient. Books and lectures were supportive tools to this end. The same principles applied to the laboratory, and all students were expected to do some work in the bacteriology laboratory. Osler introduced the German postgraduate training system, instituting one year of general internship followed by several years of residency with increasing clinical responsibilities.

William Osler’s book, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, first published in 1892, supported his imaginative new curriculum. It was based upon the advances in medical science of the previous fifty years and remained the standard text on clinical medicine for the next forty years.

Osler, a superb diagnostician and clinician, was greatly esteemed by his peers in this country and abroad. In 1905 he accepted the Regius Professorship of Medicine at Oxford University, at the time the most prestigious medical appointment in the English-speaking world. He left Maryland with warm feelings for Hopkins knowing that his sixteen years spent had laid a solid foundation for the future of Hopkins medical education.

(From: 1993 McCall, Nancy, ed. The Portrait Collection of Johns Hopkins Medicine: A Catalog of Paintings and Photographs at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.)

1849Born on July 12 at the parsonage in Bond Head, Tecumseh County, Upper Canada (after 1864, the province of Ontario) to the Rev. Featherstone Lake Osler and Ellen Free Pickton Osler. William was the sixth son and eighth child of nine.
1857Osler family moved to Dundas, Ontario.
1857-1864 Student at local grammar school in Dundas.
1864Expelled from grammar school.
1864-1865Boarder at grammar school of the Rev. W. F. Checkley, in Barrie, Ontario.
1866-1867Student at Trinity College School, Weston, Ontario, where he met his mentors, Rev. William Arthur Johnson and James Bovell, M.D.
1867-1868Student at Trinity College, Toronto, in preparation for career as a minister.

Medical Education
1868-1870Student at Toronto School of Medicine.
1869First publication, "Christmas and the Microscope," Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, (London), Feb. 1, no. 50, p. 44.
1870First scientific publication, "Canadian diatomaceae," Canadian Naturalist & Quarterly Journal of Science, 1870-71, N.S. 5: 142-151.
1870-1872 Student at McGill Medical School, Montreal, where he studied with Palmer Howard, M.D., the third dedicatee, with Johnson and Bovell, of his Principles and Practice.
1871First clinical publication, "Carcinoma mammae: Removal by Excision," Canadian Medical Journal, 1871, 8: 107-109.
1872Received M.D., McGill Medical School. Awarded a special prize for his thesis on pathological anatomy, which was never published and which now survives only in fragments.
1872-1874Traveled and studied in Europe.
1873Began research on blood platelets.

Montreal (1874 – 1884)
1874-1875Lecturer on the Institutes of Medicine, McGill University.
1874Joins Medico-Chirurgical Society of Montreal.
1875-1884 Professor of the Institutes of Medicine, McGill University.
1875Attending Physician, smallpox wards, Montreal General Hospital.
1876?Professor of Physiology, Montreal Veterinary College.
1876-1884Pathologist, Montreal General Hospital (appointed May 1, 1876).
1877-1884 Registrar, School of Medicine, McGill University.
1877-1878Editor, Transactions of the Canadian Medical Association.
1878Published Montreal General Hospital Pathological Reports.
1878Passed examination for membership in the Royal College of Physicians, London.
1878-1884 Physician to Montreal General Hospital.
1881Elected General Secretary, Canadian Medical Association.
1883Elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
1884Elected President of the Canadian Medical Association.

Philadelphia (1884 – 1889)
1884-1889 Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
1885Gulstonian Lectures "On Malignant Endocarditis," Royal College of Physicians, London (Published: British Medical Journal, 1885, 1: 467-70, 522-526, 577-579).
1885Elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
1885Elected member of the Philadelphia Pathological Society on March 12.
1885Appointed visiting physician, Philadelphia General Hospital [Blockley].
1885Founding member of the Association of American Physicians.
1886Cartwright Lectures "On Certain Problems in the Physiology of the Blood Corpuscles," delivered before the Association of the Alumni of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, in March (Published: Medical News(NY), 1886, 48: 365-370, 393-399, 420-425).
1887Appointed physician to the Philadelphia Orthopedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases.

Baltimore (1889 – 1905)
1889-1905 Physician-in-Chief, The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
1892Published The Principles and Practice of Medicine: Designed for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1892.
1892-1893 President of the American Pediatric Society.
1892Married Grace Revere of Boston, widow of Samuel W. Gross, M.D., of Philadelphia, on May 7.
1893Son born, but lived less than a week in February.
1893-1905 Professor of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
1895Awarded LL.D by McGill University on April 30.
1895Son, Edward Revere Osler born on December 28.
1895President, Association of American Medical Colleges.
1895President, Association of American Physicians.
1895Described the visceral complications of erythema multiforme.
1898Founding member, Association of Medical Librarians, May 2.
1898Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on June 6.
1898Awarded LL.D. by Aberdeen University, Scotland, on July 21.
1898Awarded LL.D. by Edinburgh University, Scotland, in July.
1898-1899Dean of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
1899Cavendish Lecture, "On the Etiology and Diagnosis of Cerebrospinal Fever," West London Medico-Chirurgical Society, June 16 (Published: West London Medical Journal, 4: 145-188).
1899Awarded LL.D. by the University of Toronto, June 10.
1901United States representative, British Congress on Tuberculosis, July.
1901Described a form of multiple telangiectasis.
1901Awarded LL.D. by the Yale University, October.
1902President, Association of Medical Librarians.
1902Awarded D.C.L. by University of Trinity College, Toronto.
1903Described chronic cyanosis with polycythemia and enlarged spleen.
1904Elected Vice-President and Chairman of the International Committee of the United States Society for the Study of Tuberculosis, March 28.
1904Ingersoll Lecture, "Science and Immortality," Harvard University, May. (Published: Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1904).
1904Awarded L.L.D. by Harvard University on June 29.
1904Awarded D.S. by Oxford University on July 27.
1905Awarded an L.L.D. by Johns Hopkins University on February 22.
1905Valedictory address, "The Fixed Period," The Johns Hopkins University, Feb. 22, caused uproar in the popular press. which accused Osler of proposing that all men over sixty are useless and should be chloroformed to death.
1905Founding member, Interurban Clinical Club, April 28.

Oxford (1905 – 1919)
1905-1919Regius Professor of Medicine, Oxford University.
1905Awarded D.M. by Oxford University on June 13.
1905In London, John Singer Sargent completed the portrait of "The Four Doctors" (Kelly, Halsted, Osler, Welch) commissioned by Miss Mary Elizabeth Garrett for The Johns Hopkins University.
1905Thomas Young lecturer in Medicine, St. George’s Hospital, London.
1905Appointed a Delegate to the Oxford University Press.
1905Consultant to the Radcliffe Infirmary where he initiated informal Sunday morning post-graduate clinics there.
1905-1908Member of the Hebdomadal Council, governing body of Oxford University.
1906Elected to membership of the Bibliographical Society, London, on March 19.
1906Appointed member of the Royal Commission on Vivisection.
1906Harveian Oration, "The Growth of Truth as Illustrated in the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood," Royal College of Physicians, London, on October 18 (Published: London: H. Frowde, 1906).
1908Linacre Lecture, St. John’s College, Cambridge University, on May 6.
1908Unsuccessful candidate in the election for the Lord Rectorship of the University of Edinburgh.
1908Described erythematous swellings in malignant endocarditis (Osler’s spots).
1909Schorstein Lecture, London Hospital, on October 15.
1910Lumleian Lectures "On Angina Pectoris," Royal College of Physicians, London in March. (Published: Lancet, 1910, 1: 697-702, 839-844, 973-977).
1910Awarded D.Sc. by Leeds University in June.
1911Awarded M.D. by University of Christiana, Sweden, in September.
1911Baronetcy conferred.
1911Elected President of the Clinical Section, Royal Society of Medicine.
1912Awarded D. Sc. by Trinity College, Dublin, on July 6.
1912Awarded an D.L.C. by Durham University on December 17.
1913Founder and first President of the Historical Section, Royal Society of Medicine.
1913Lectures on the Silliman Foundation, Yale University, "The Evolution of Modern Medicine," delivered in April (Published: New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921).
1913-1919President of the Bibliographical Society, London.
1913President of the Medical Section, XVIIth International Medical Congress, London, August 6-12.
1914Resigned for a few days in April from the Royal College of Physicians over their response to the unauthorized use of his name publicizing a popular medical book.
1914Awarded Sc.D. by Cambridge University on June 9.
1914Nominated, but declined presidency of the Royal Society of Medicine.
1914Elected to the Roxburghe Club.
1916Appointed to the Royal Commission on University Education in Wales.
1916Resigned as Consultant to the hospitals of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.
1917Lt. Edward Revere Osler, RFA, died in Flanders on August 30.
1919President of the Inter-Allied Fellowship of Medicine, January 9.
1919President, Ashmolean Natural History Society.
1919Presidential speech, "The Old Humanities and the New Science," Classical Association, Oxford, May 16. (Published: Classical Association Proceedings, 1919.)
1919Publication of Contributions to Medical and Biological Research Dedicated to Sir William Osler in Honour of his Seventieth Birthday . . . by his Pupils and Co-Workers.
1919Died on December 29.