The 15 most famous doctors in history (and their contributions)

Medicine has evolved along with societies throughout history.

From humorous theories to the extensive medical-scientific knowledge we have today, the profession of doctor has always been necessary and respected. Among these figures, some put a point and apart in the medical knowledge.

In this article we will briefly introduce 15 of the most famous doctors in history, reviewing the contributions they made in the field of health.

The most influential doctors in the history of medicine

Each medical procedure is performed by the hands of a trained professional, who relies on the knowledge accumulated over the centuries, verified by the scientific community.

A fact as simple as washing hands after performing an autopsy may have been extremely controversial. at the time of his proposal, but thanks to historical figures who innovated in medical knowledge or decided to go against the current, today we enjoy the best health system that has ever existed in human history.

Among these brilliant medical figures who paved the way to today’s healing, we find the following.

1. Hippocrates


Hippocrates is considered to be the father of modern medicine. He lived in Greece between 469 and 470 B.C., establishing the doctrine of Hippocratic medicine and initiating a revolution in this field of knowledge.

Hippocratic doctrine was separated from mysticism and philosophical thought. Through observation and deduction, specific procedures were established to promote patient improvement – such as the use of clean water or wine to clean wounds or giving importance to rest as part of treatment.

Hippocrates was the first physician to describe diseases as “acute,” “chronic,” or “epidemic, laying the foundation for today’s medical language. His knowledge of thoracic surgery is relevant even to modern medicine, and within his school gave rise to the Hippocratic Oath, a document which indicates the ethical basis to follow during the practice of medicine.

2. Pergamon Galen


Galen was a doctor who lived approximately between 130 and 210 A.D. He is credited with creating an empirical model for medical knowledge, rooted in experimentation with animal models that allowed him to draw conclusions about the human body.

Galen was an avid anatomist and physiologist, who came to discover both the function of blood-bearing arteries and that urine originates in the kidneys. Thanks to him, rapid progress was made in the identification and description of various physiological structures, such as the seven pairs of cranial nerves or the genitourinary system.

3. Ibn Sina – Avicenna

Ibn Sina

Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna in the Westwas a great thinker within the Muslim culture. Ibn Sina was originally from Persia, where he participated in the creation of medical, philosophical, mathematical and physical knowledge, among other categories. His medical knowledge was incredibly influential, especially between the 11th and 17th centuries.

“The Canon of Medicine,” a five-volume encyclopedia, was a book written by Ibn Sina that was used as a the basic medical textbook practically until the 18th century. In it, he considered that every disease has natural causes, not necessarily theological.

It was within this framework that he brought together all the medical knowledge available at that time in an incredibly concise form.

4. Andrea Vesalio


Andrés Vesalio wrote one of the most important books in the field of anatomy. His work, “De humani corporis manufactures“translated as “On the tissue of the human body”, elevates him as the father of modern anatomy.

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Vesalio was born in 1514 in Brussels.a city that at that time was part of the Netherlands, but later became a professor at the University of Padua before becoming the imperial court doctor of Charles V, emperor of the Habsburgs, as his father and grandfather had done before him.

5. René Laënnec

Rene Laennec

René Laënnec, born in Brittany in 1781, was a renowned French doctor in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their contribution to modern medicine is key, mainly because of the invention of the stethoscope and the foundation of the clinical practice of auscultation.

In addition to characterizing and classifying various lung diseases, such as pneumonia or emphysema, he was also the first person to describe cirrhosis in detail, a common liver disease in alcoholics.

6. Edward Jenner


Edward Jenner was an English doctor, born in 1749. He is considered by many to be the father of immunology, in addition to having been a member of the Royal Society as a zoologist.

He was the inventor of the vaccination (whose name refers to the cattle used to carry out the procedure). The first vaccine was used to immunize patients against smallpox, developed from the smallpox virus, also pathogenic but of much lesser severity.

It is considered to be the first person to use vaccination to slow the epidemic progression of a disease.

7. Ignaz Semmelweis


Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor who became nicknamed “the savior of childbirth.”since the patients who gave birth in her clinic had mortality rates much lower than was usual for most hospitals at the time, at the beginning of the 19th century.

The contribution of Ignaz Semmelweis was enormous, although went unnoticed by the scientific community due to the explosive character of Semmelweis himself, who was remarkably reluctant to be criticized for his theories.

The simple fact of cleaning hands after autopsies and before intervening on women in labour, devised by Semmelweis, was incredibly innovative, as at that time the pathogenic effects of bacteria were unknown.

8. Sir Joseph Lister


Another champion of antiseptic practices At the clinical level, Joseph Lister was born in 1827 and died in 1912. Lister used the knowledge Louis Pasteur generated about microbes to improve his clinical practice, linking the theory of germs with medicine and surgery.

Lister’s aseptic practices included disinfection of the operating room, clothing, instruments, and the hands of surgeons, to to avoid the appearance of infections and gangrene in patients undergoing surgery.

Despite the initial rejection of his theories (as well as Semmelweis’), the visible positive results of his practices made them very popular, becoming key aseptic practices in today’s surgery.

9. John Snow

John Snow

Unfortunately called just like an important character in the Throne Game – the fantasy saga “Song of Fire and Ice”, John Snow was an important doctor in the early 19th century. considered the founder of modern epidemiology.

His epidemiological investigation into the origin of cholera outbreaks in Victorian London enabled him to detect contamination problems in the city’s water supply, demonstrating the importance of epidemiological studies for public health.

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10. Sigmund Freud


Sigmund Freud needs virtually no introduction. He is the father of the doctrine of psychoanalysis, which he founded while practicing as a neurologist in Austria.

He delved into the unconscious mechanisms of the psyche, and how these influence our preferences, desires, longings and phobias.

Despite several of his erroneous theories about the psyche and human behavior, his vision initiated research into the psychological element as part of individual health. His life and work continue to be studied in different disciplines.

11. Sir William Osler

William Osler

Sir William Osler (1849 – 1919) is known as the “Doctor of Doctors”, a well-deserved honor.

Canadian in origin but settled for most of his professional and academic career in Oxford, UK, his contributions are of immense importance to modern clinical practice.

Much of its success lies in his bedside learning educational doctrine.Through this, curricular practices and contact with patients became key pillars in the training of any physician today.

12. Robert Koch


Dr. Robert Koch was an instrumental German physician in the establishment of modern bacteriological knowledge.

It established a methodology to identify the causal agents of bacterial diseases, such as cholera, tuberculosis or even anthrax.

He received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1905 for his research on tuberculosis. Many of his students also had a great impact on far-reaching scientific and medical breakthroughs.

13. Sir Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming was a doctor born in 1881, in Darvel, Scotland.

It is known by the entire medical-scientific community for the crucial discovery of penicillinthe first antibiotic used by humans consciously, which opened the way for the research and application of other antibiotic substances, saving countless lives since then.

In addition to this famous discovery, Fleming also discovered the antimicrobial enzyme known as lysozyme.

14. Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk

Dr. Jonas Salk (1914 – 1995) is known for have created the first polio vaccinea relatively common viral disease for much of the last century.

Jonas Salk was the first to generate a polio vaccine that used non-infectious viral particles, unlike other vaccines of the time that used “attenuated” versions of the viruses, which could still present a risk of infection and transmission and, therefore, a significant health risk.

15. Jean-Martin Charcot

Jean Martin Charcot

Jean-Martin Charcot was a 19th century French neurologist, known today for his work on hysteria and hypnosis (two concepts in controversy today). He was also the first to describe multiple sclerosis.

Curiously, although hysteria was considered a mainly female disease, Jean-Martin Charcot struggled to prove that this disease also affected men, being according to him a psychological rather than a neurological disease, usually derived from past traumas suffered by the patient.

Bibliographic references

  • Tan, S. Y., & Ponstein, N. (2019). Jonas Salk (1914-1995): A vaccine against polio. Singapore medical journal, 60(1), 9-10. doi:10.11622/smedj.2019002.
  • Riedel S. (2005). Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), 18(1), 21-25. doi:10.1080/08998280.2005.11928028.
  • Bogousslavsky, J., Walusinski, O., & Veyrunes, D. (2009). Crime, Hysteria and Belle Epoque Hypnotism: The Path Traced by Jean-Martin Charcot and Georges Gilles de la Tourette. European Neurology, 62(4), 193-199. doi:10.1159/000228252.