Between early February and early March of this year (2016), Medscape, the newsletter of the American Medical Association (AMA), featured a series of articles entitled “The 50 most influential physicians in history”. (Check http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/influential-physicians-part-4 for the top 10). Sadly, perhaps the most important physician of all did not even appear on the list: Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), the founder of homeopathy. To practitioners and most users of homeopathy, this comes as no surprise.
But there is an interesting twist to this story…
The #1 most influential physician in history according to the AMA is Sir William Osler (1849-1919), a Canadian who held leading positions at McGill University, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University, and who helped lay the foundation for clinical training and “bedside manner” in the practice of modern medicine. Osler is well known for having made the following statements (referred to in medical textbooks as “aphorisms”):
Listen to your patients; they are telling you the diagnosis.
The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.
What is not so well known is that Osler was an admirer of Samuel Hahnemann, was well aware of the important contribution that homeopathy made to the practice of medicine, and spoke frequently about it:
Ask not what kind of illness the patient has, ask what kind of patient has the illness.
—quoted in Dana Ullman, Discovering homeopathy: medicine for the 21st century (North Atlantic Books, 1 Jun 1991). Page 55
… No one individual has done more good to the medical profession than Hahnemann…
— quoted in Harry Cushing 1940 The Life of Sir William Osler Vol. 1 Page 171
Variability is the law of life, and as no two faces are the same, so no two bodies are alike, and no two individuals react alike and behave alike under the abnormal conditions which we know as disease.
— William Osler 1932 Aequanimitas: with other addresses to medical students, nurses and practitioners of medicine
And in a flash of prophecy, Osler wrote this:
I fear that we may return to the state of polypharmacy, the emancipation from which has been the sole gift of Hahnemann and his followers….
— William Osler 1905 Counsels and ideals from the writings of William Osler
Polypharmacy is the concurrent use of multiple medications and is recognized as a common and serious problem, particularly among elderly patients who frequently receive medications from multiple prescribers. It seems the AMA would do well to heed not only the warning issued by William Osler, who it deems to have been the most influential physician in history, but also the proposed solution– homeopathy.
Samuel Hahnemann is not the only homeopath who has profoundly influenced medicine and medical science. In a recently published book called A Century of Homeopaths: Their Influence on Medicine and Health (2014), Jonathan Davidson MD, Professor emeritus at Duke University, outlines major contributions made by other homeopaths. For example, the first physician to identify that pollen caused hay fever was a homeopathic doctor; the first to experiment with radiation as a cancer treatment was a student at a homeopathic medical school in Chicago. In total, the book describes the contributions of 100 homeopaths– some are women and many are virtually unknown– on a range of subjects including surgery, anesthesiology, neuroscience, public health, oncology and cardiology.