Sir William Osler: Father of Modern Medicine

Sir William Osler is considered to be one of the most influential and beloved physicians of all time. His quirky sense of humour, powerful speeches, and a revolutionising approach towards medical education has rightly earned him the title: Father of Modern Medicine.

Timeline: 1849 to 1918

Place of study:

  • Trinity College, Toronto
  • Toronto Medical School
  • McGill University, Montreal
  • University College, London

Osler’s story:

  • Osler’s life almost describes the plot of a great wartime novel. 
  • As a young boy, Osler was very inquisitive and loved to play pranks. He was often a truant. This got him into trouble with his professors quite often. (relatable much?)
  • His life took a different turn when he met Reverend William Arthur Johnson who introduced him to natural history. 
  • With Johnson’s guidance, Osler soon developed a passion for natural science.
  • Despite his inclination towards natural history, Osler took up studying for the ministry in Toronto. 
  • However, for him the curriculum was lacklustre and he ended up attending several medical lectures by Dr James Bovell, a renowned physician of the time. 
  • The step from the study of nature to the study of man was an easy one for Osler. He completed his education in the field of medicine. 
  • During his time in Montreal, post the Civil war, he took an interest in educational reforms. 
  • He advocated for the extension of clinical training, and modernizing of exams, among other changes.
  • One of his most interesting systems was the “teaching at the bedside” practice, which warranted practical experience to the medical graduates. 
  •  Osler became the country’s foremost clinical educator as well as a renowned diagnostician with a large consulting practice, and an active member of many professional groups. By 1900, he was one of the best-known physicians in the world. 
  • Soon after his return to England, Osler was knighted by King George V for his contributions to medicine. (Sir William, the knight in shining labcoat)
  • During World War I, he helped organize some of the military hospitals in the Oxford area and served as attending physician to several. He lost his son to the war. 
  • Sir William succumbed to pneumonia at the age of seventy.


  • Osler described himself as a “bibliomaniac” and “a lifelong student”.
  • He published over 1,300 articles in his lifetime. 
  • His most significant publication was the scientific textbook of medicine titled ‘The Principles and Practices of Medicine’  which was published in 1892.

Fun Fact: Osler was famous for being a prankster. Under the pseudonym of Egerton Davis, he wrote several letters to the editors of medical journals describing completely fictional clinical entities!

Famous Quote:

“The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business. “

– Sir William Osler


1. Biographical Overview | William Osler – Profiles in Science Accessed from Accessed on 31st March 2021. 
2. Sir William Osler and Internal Medicine | About Internal Medicine  Accessed from Accessed on 31st March 2021.

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