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Sir William Osler (1849-1919)

Sir William Osler and Medicine at McGillReferred to William Olser as a patient, poet Walt Whitman revealed remarkable clairvoyance in 1888 when he observed, "As for Osler: he is a great man — one of the rare men. I should be much surprised if he didn't soar way, way up — get very famous at his trade — someday. He has the air of the thing about him — of achievement."

Considered to be one of the greatest physicians of all time, William Olser was born in the small town of Bond Head, Ontario in 1849 and received his medical degree from McGill in 1872. When he was appointed a professor of medicine at the University two years later, Osler quickly established himself as an innovative thinker, insisting that his students learn both in the classroom and in clinical settings.

Osler's new approach, which was developed at a time when medical students might undergo their entire education without touching a patient, would revolutionize the teaching of medicine. "To study medicine without books is to sail an uncharted sea," Osler explained, "while to study medicine only from books is not to go to sea at all."

Osler was recruited by the University of Pennsylvania in 1884, and then Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In 1892, he published his most famous work, Principles and Practice of Medicine, which set out the ideas he had begun to put into practice at McGill.

In 1905 Osler became Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and was made a Baronet in 1911. A noted bibliophile, he left his extensive medical history library to McGill, including many rare works that were to become the nucleus of one of the most important collections on medical history in North America.

Upon his death in 1919, the Times attributed his extraordinary influence partly to his "great power of inspiring others, of getting the best out of his pupils, and his high personal idealism." But the power of his ideas has outlasted his considerable personal influence. Indeed, many of the approaches to medical training he advocated - medical residency programs and a medical curriculum that includes bedside interaction with patients -- are still cornerstones of medical education today.