Harvey William Cushing

A Brief Biography

Harvey William Cushing, American physician and neurosurgeon, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 8, 1869. Cushing studied medicine at Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1895. He then studied surgery under the guidance of another famous surgeon, William Stewart Halstead, at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, MD. During ten years he was a surgeon at this hospital, followed by a period as surgeon-in-chief at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and professor of surgery at the Harvard Medical School. In 1933, until his death, he worked at Yale University.

Beginning in 1905, Dr. Cushing started to develop many of the basic surgical techniques for operating the brain, thus establishing neurosurgery as a new and autonomous surgical discipline. He improved considerably the survival of patients after difficult brain operations for intracranial tumors, an area where he became one of the foremost leaders and experts of all times. He was also the first to use x-rays to diagnose brain tumors and to stimulate electrically the sensory cortex of a human being. He established an international reputation as a teacher of neurosurgeons, with many followers and students, many of whom became also world famous. In his honor, one of the first medical associations in neurosurgery was formed (the Harvey Cushing Society, later absorbed into the American Association of Neurological Surgeons).

His name was also immortalized in the history of medicine, by his discovery, in 1912, of Cushing's disease, an endocrinological syndrome caused by a malfunction of the pituitary gland. This discovery was described in detail in "The Pituitary Body and its Disorders". Cushing wrote extensively, and was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, for his respected biography of Sir William Osler, one of the  "fathers" of modern medicine.

For all this, he is considered the greatest neurosurgeon of the 20th century. He died in 1939, in New Haven, Connecticut.

To Know More

From: The History of Psychosurgery
Author: Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD
Source: Brain & Mind Magazine, June 1997

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