Doctors: Did You Know?
There’s no question that earning a medical degree takes some smarts. My physician-dad from Monmouth Beach would tell me that the profession was often referred to as “the highest calling.” So with that, one would think just being doctor was enough. Not always.
The following 10 famous people, who all earned medical degrees, are remembered for so much more:
• James Naismith (1861-1939) — The inventor of basketball was a physician. Pretty amazing. Born in Ontario, Canada, Naismith invented the sport of basketball in 1891 and, if that wasn’t enough, 7 years later he earned a medical degree from the University of Colorado Medical School. Naismith developed the game and its rules (in just two weeks) while serving as a gym teacher in Springfield, MA. He was a physical education professor at the University of Kansas for 20 years (and there would become the first college basketball coach in US history). Established in 1959, the NBA Hall of Fame is named in his honor.
• William Thornton (1759-1828) — As seen with Obamacare matters, politics and medicine seldom mix. But with William Thornton they did. Born in the British Virgin Islands, Thornton was the designer of the glorious U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. He had won a 1789 contest to design the building that would accommodate America’s new bicameral legislature. A man of varied ability, Thornton was a respected painter, inventor, architect, and University of Edinburgh-trained physician (1784). He later served as the U.S. Patent Office chief. In 1799, a dying George Washington summoned Thornton to Mount Vernon but he arrived too late to treat our “Founding Father.”
• Michael Crichton (1942-2008) — His book/movie titles are among the elite of Sci-Fi entertainment: Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, The Lost World, The Terminal Man, Westworld, Twister, Disclosure, and the smash-hit TV medical show, ER. All were created by a man who began his writing career while a medical student at Harvard. The Chicago-born physician-author sold over 200 million books worldwide. He’s also an Oscar, Emmy and Peabody Award winner. Speaking of his exceptional ability, it was Steven Spielberg who said Crichton was “the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts.”
• Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) — It’s “elementary” that a doctor would create Sherlock Holmes — because one did. A Scottish-born physician, Doyle was the man who created the world famous fictional detective. Beginning in 1887 and for more than 60 epic, mostly short stories, Doyle saw to it that Homes somehow solved the case. Holmes (also a doctor, as was his crime-solving partner Dr. Watson) held deductive and reasoning powers of miraculous proportions. Doyle had patterned Holmes after Dr. Joseph Bell, one his professors at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, where he graduated from in 1881. In 1902, the doctor-writer was knighted by King Edward VII.
• Roger Bannister (1929-2018) — Running a medical practice requires patience. Running on a track requires speed. Roger Bannister had both. Thus, it took a physician to be the first human being to run a sub-4-minute mile. After disappointment at the 1952 Olympics and stiff competition to make mile history, Bannister broke the barrier in May 1954 at Oxford during an AAA meet. He would hold the mile record of 3 min 59.4 sec for just over 6 weeks. The English-born Bannister attended medical school at the University of Oxford and went on to a notable career as a neurologist and Oxford college master. And despite his fleet fame, Bannister said he would rather be remembered for his medical work.
• Alister MacKenzie (1870-1934) — It’s well known that most doctors love to play golf, but this connection is really something special. Trained as a surgeon, MacKenzie was also a world-renowned golf course architect and a World Golf Hall of Fame member. He signature course is the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where the celebrated Masters Tournament is held every year in April. His work includes over 50 golf courses on four continents. The Canoe Brook Country Club South Course in Summit, NJ is his design. MacKenzie received his medical training at Cambridge University in England. His father was also a doctor.
• Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) — This Russian-born physician is considered perhaps the finest writer of short stories in all literature. The son of a grocer, he earned his medical degree from I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University in 1884. Among his most famous works (later to become famous theatrical plays) are The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters, The Lady with the Dog, and The Seagull. Earning money mostly as a writer while always a practicing doctor, Checkov said of his life: “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.” Only 44 when he died, his work would go on to influence James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Henry Miller among other great writers.
“The starting point of all achievement is desire.”
• Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) — A Marxist revolutionary with a medical degree … now there’s some malpractice. Born in Argentina, Guevara received his medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires in 1953 but he abandoned medicine believing that only revolution could truly reform South America. A product and student of Latin American hunger, poverty, and disease, Guevara was a major player in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, serving as Fidel Castro’s second in command. He was captured and executed during guerilla warfare in Bolivia. A voracious reader and radical writer, Guevara’s image remains a counterculture symbol even today.
• Samuel Prescott (1751-1777) — Most people remember Paul Revere’s “midnight ride” during the American Revolution, but another Massachusetts patriot played a big role that night on April 18, 1775 — and it was a doctor. He got his medical training from his father, Abel, who also a physician. Early in the war, it was Revere, Prescott, and William Dawes who rode horses to warn Concord militia that the “British were coming.” Indeed, only Prescott made it to Concord. His death remains sketchy, but he may have died as a POW while serving as a Continental Army surgeon. The doctor’s famous ride continues to be re-enacted to this day.
• Ronan Tynan (1960-) — While many of today’s doctors have little to sing about, one physician has taken it to a high art form. An internationally-renowned Irish-born tenor-singer, Tynan has performed for American Presidents, Catholic Cardinals, the MLB and the NHL. He earned his MD from Trinity College in Dublin in 1993 and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries. Birth defects and a 1980 auto accident caused the amputation of his lower legs. With the “ability to simultaneously console and inspire,” his performances of Gold Bless America at old Yankee Stadium in New York are stuff of legend.