Dr. Harvey Cushing – Father of Modern Neurology

Ever wondered who Cushing’s syndrome is named after? Read the story of Dr Harvey Cushing, the father of modern neurological surgery.  He comes from a long generation of general practitioners and has revolutionised the approach towards neurosurgery.

Timeline: 1869-1939


  • Dr Cushing’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather before him were all general practitioners.
  • He was the youngest of 10 siblings.

Place of Study

  • Attended college at Yale in 1887-1891
  • Harvard Medical School between 1891-1895
  • Extern at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) 

Contributions to the field of Medicine

  • During World War I, Cushing headed the first Harvard Unit of 13 surgeons and 4 nurses
  • Ran the American Ambulance during the war in Paris
  • He was one of the first advocates of the Riva-Rocci sphygmomanometer as a means to measure peri-operative blood pressure
  • He gave Cushing’s Law or Cushing’s reflex, based on his studies of the brain’s response to compression. 
  • One of his most important contributions to the field of medicine is describing Cushing’s syndrome-the consequence of hypersecretion by the adrenal cortex.

Awards and Recognition

  • Won the Pulitzer prize in 1926.
  • Awarded Companion of the Bath by the British government.
  • Awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the U.S. Army.

He had an extraordinary medical career spanning over 40 years. This included operating on over 2000 brain tumours, and his discoveries and innovations, have helped make neurology and neurosurgery the respected specialties they are now.


Dr Cushing wrote the two-volume biography of Sir William Osler which won him the Pulitzer Prize later in 1926.


1. Doyle NM, Doyle JF, Walter EJ. The life and work of Harvey Cushing 1869-1939: A pioneer of neurosurgery. J Intensive Care Soc. 2017 May;18(2):157-158
2. Harvey Cushing: A Historical Vignette Available at https://www.medschool.lsuhsc.edu/neurosurgery/nervecenter/cushing.html Accessed on 9th June 2021
3. Dinallo S, Waseem M. Cushing Reflex. 2021 Mar 31. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan