Sir William Osler was a Canadian physician who came to the US in the 1890’s and helped establish the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Osler became one of the leading physicians of his day and wrote the medical textbook that became the standard medical text in the western world for nearly 40 years. Osler has been called “The Father of Modern Medicine” because of his great contributions to medicine and medical education. In particular, Osler revolutionized medical training with his emphasis on direct patient contact for medical students.
In particular, he taught his students of the importance of the medical history and physical examination. Osler is most famous for the saying, “If you listen carefully to the patient, they will tell you the diagnosis.” To this day, medical students across the US are still taught that 90% of a medical diagnosis is usually based on the medical history (what the patient tells them) and physical exam — and that the history is considered to be by far the most important. Unfortunately, this effective approach is often neglected. Instead of listening and examining, modern doctors often rely completely on unproven laboratory tests in order to make a diagnosis.
Osler also commented on the treatment of hypothyroidism available in the early 20th century by stating, “Our art has made no more brilliant advance than in the cure of these disorders due to disturbed function of the thyroid gland.” It is worth noting that this effective thyroid treatment occurred in an era when there were no thyroid tests and no synthetic thyroid medications.