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William Osler was born in Bond Head, Ontario in 1849. He received his M.D. in 1872 from McGill University and studied in London, Berlin, and Vienna from 1872 to 1874. He joined the faculty of McGill in 1874, and left in 1884 to become professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Osler was recruited by John S. Billings in 1888 to be physician-in-chief of the soon-to-open Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of medicine at the school of medicine being planned.

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He revolutionized the medical curriculum of the United States and Canada, combining the best of the English and German systems. He adapted the English system to egalitarian American principles by teaching all medical students at the bedside. Believing that students learn best by doing, he felt that clinical instructions should begin with the patient and conclude with the patient. He stressed that books were supportive tools to this end and required that all students do a rotation in the bacteriology laboratory.

Osler introduced the German postgraduate training system, instituting a general internship of one year to be followed by a residency of several years. His book The Principles and Practice of Medicine, first published in 1892, was based upon the advances in medical science of the previous 50 years and remained the standard text on clinical medicine for the next 40 years. He left Johns Hopkins in 1905 to accept the Regius Professorship of Medicine at Oxford University.

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Scope and Content

The William Osler Collection spans his entire medical career. Series include correspondence, scientific notes and case studies, photographs, and drawings. There is an extensive group of letters from Osler to Henry Barton Jacobs covering the period 1905-1919. A larger collection of Osler’s personal papers is located in the Osler Library at McGill University in Montreal.

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Additional Links

Profiles in Science exhibit on William Osler at National Library of Medicine

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