History is full of unsung heroes – those brave, pioneering souls who paved the way for greatness and yet never received the praise and admiration they perhaps deserved. Few fields have quite so many underrated leaders and innovators as the field of medicine; the medical community keeps evolving, keeps changing and making new developments, and many of the people behind such progresses never get their moment in the spotlight.
This might be because they were merely so ahead of their time, they were ridiculed or ignored during their life. It may also be because of issues of prejudice or bigotry – especially in the cases of women or people of color who made such vital contributions to medical science. Let’s take a look through some of our favorite underrated pioneers of medicine, and remember their achievements here. Probably, you can use their contribution and experience as an example of role models in medical career when writing your medical personal statement at the first time.
Vivien Theodore Thomas (1910-1985, USA)
This isn’t a name you’re likely to have come across before, but for soldiers suffering from traumatic shock and hemorrhaging during the second world war, this man was a hero. Vivien Theodore Thomas discovered that shock and trauma – common enough during the bloody and nightmarish battles of WWII – was leading to a significant loss of fluids and a decrease of blood volume, and his new approaches to treatment ended up saving thousands of lives.
Furthermore, Thomas also developed a new surgical procedure for treating Tetralogy of Fallot which is still used to this day. His work was frowned upon at the time, as medics believed that the procedure would harm the soul of the patient. History has long since vindicated his work.
Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843, Germany)
Born in 1755 in Bavaria, Hahnemann was a true polymath. He spoke six languages fluently, was a master translator of medical histories, and was a pioneering chemist in his native Germany.
It seems incredible today, but in Hahnemann’s time, doctors thought nothing of the ill effects of poor sanitation and general hygiene. This pioneering doctor was a staunch advocate of washing hands, pushing cities to improve their sewerage systems, and of good public health via fresh air, exercise, sensible diets and adequate housing. He also helped develop the idea that diseases could be genetically inherited, long before this theory was proven across the following centuries.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881, Jamaica – United Kingdom)
Mary Seacole was a British-Jamaican businesswoman, whose contributions to medical care during the Crimean war were overshadowed by her more famous (and considerably whiter) peer, Florence Nightingale.
When the battles were raging, and military tactics were proving to be disastrous, Mary was there with essential nursing care, clean blankets, food, and kindness. Due to racial prejudice, her name almost disappeared from the history books altogether, although today she is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951, USA)
Although not a medic or a doctor herself, Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to medical science has been enormous. Despite this, her name is barely known among the general populous.
Henrietta tragically died from cancer at the age of 31 in Baltimore. Little did she know that she was the donor of cells that created the ‘immortal’ HeLa cell line – a line which didn’t die after the first few divisions. The tissue from her tumor was taken with neither her consent or knowledge… that tissue led to discoveries which resulted in the cure for Polio, huge breakthroughs in oncology, and is even today being used to create new treatments for AIDS.
Beign inspired by this story, an American author Rebecca Skloot wrote her book called “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, that is 2011 winner of the National Academies Communication Award for best creative work that helps the public understanding of topics in science, engineering or medicine.
Boyd Woodruff (1917-2017, USA)
Born in 1917, Woodruff’s contributions to the study of microbiology have led to medical breakthroughs which changed the world of medicine forever after. We all know of the work of Alexander Fleming – the Nobel Prize-winning creator of penicillin – and yet Woodruff remains relatively unknown outside of his field. It’s high time that changed.
Woodruff’s groundbreaking work enabled scientists to begin harvesting and identifying common microbes taken from the world around us; from mud and dirt, crops, and the air itself. He created a fermentation program which furthered Fleming’s work and allowed penicillin to be made more cheaply and quickly than ever before and also pioneered an approach to synthesizing vitamins B12 and C, as well as riboflavin, an essential chemical for the treatment of cancers.
Let’s raise a glass to these pioneering medics and medical contributors, and ensure their names live on in our work and studies!
Jilian Woods is passionate freelance writer, and journalist (NYU journalist degree in 2017).Also read Article by Woods- Maladies of Creativity: 5 Diseases Supposed to Increase Artistry and Imagination