Dr. Harvey Cushing was considered the greatest neurosurgeon of our century. He is credited with creating the field of brain surgery as a surgical discipline.
Cushing was born from American pioneering stock in Cleveland, Ohio on April 8, 1869. He attended Yale University, playing baseball, and was elected to Scroll and Key.
Graduating in the Spring of 1891, Cushing entered Harvard Medical School in the fall and completed his MD and Master of Arts degrees in 1895. His post-graduate training first took place at the Massachusetts General Hospital as a House Officer (intern) then at the newly established Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. At Hopkins he came under the influence of several famous physicians: William H. Welch, Howard A. Kelly, Sir William Osler, and William Halsted. It was Halsted who greatly influenced Cushing's surgical skills by his own exquisite operative technique, respect for tissues, homeostasis and meticulous pre- and post-operative care of patients.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, Harvey Cushing set the ground work for a separate field of neurological surgery beginning at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and later as Surgeon in Chief at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He developed many of the tools and techniques of surgical practice which are still in use today. He was one of the first physicians in the US to use x-rays to diagnose patients. He introduced an apparatus to measure blood pressure during operations. He recommended keeping a record of the patient's vital signs during operation, and he was the first to use electrocoagulation for surgery. Metal clips for blood vessels, re-transfusion of blood, cotton patties...you name it, he probably first described it.
Cushing achieved worldwide recognition because of his innovation, energy, and skill. He widely published his careful observations. He trained the first generation of neurosurgeons in the U.S. His assistant, Elizabeth Eisenhart, became the first woman trained in neurosurgery. At the end of his career, his disciples rewarded him by founding one of our first national neurosurgical associations as the Harvey Cushing Society (now the American Association of Neurological Surgeons).
Cushing had many other talents: athlete, artist, author, bibliophile. As a house officer, he would do back flips off of the Peter Bent Brigham front porch. His biography of his mentor, Sir William Osler, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1926. His extensive rare book collection forms a nucleus for the Cushing/Whitney historical book collection at the Yale Medical School. His personality and demeanor have even influenced our popular culture. The persona of a neurosurgeon as seen through the eyes of Hollywood in movies, books, and plays is Harvey Cushing: abrupt, intelligent, intense, the neurosurgeon, a true American hero.