Hermann Boerhaave Biography (1668-1738)

physician, botanist

Hermann Boerhaave's primary importance to medicine was as a teacher. He was the first person to develop a modern system of clinical teaching based on bedside observation of the patient. His skills as a teacher drew students from all over Europe who then carried his ideas about medical training back to theirnative countries.

Born in Voorhout, Netherlands in 1668, Hermann Boerhaave was a perfect example of the well-educated humanist Renaissance man. He spoke all the major European languages and lectured in Latin. He studied classical literature, mathematics, chemistry, botany, medicine, and anatomy, receiving a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Leiden in 1689 and a doctorate in medicine fromHarderwyck in 1693.

Spending his entire professional career at the University of Leiden, Boerhaave served, starting in 1701, as professor of medicine and of botany, rector ofthe university, professor of practical medicine and professor of chemistry.He almost single-handedly was responsible for the University of Leiden replacing Padua in Italy as the center of medical education in the early eighteenthcentury.

Boerhaave's teaching methods emphasized bedside instruction, a system still seen today in teaching hospitals where student attend rounds with an instructing physician, visiting each patient and learning through observation and on-the-spot question and answer. He also encouraged students to follow their patients after death through the autopsy procedure so that they could draw a correlation between the symptoms they had observed at bedside and the physical symptoms of disease in the body. Although these methods of understanding disease seem commonplace today, in Boerhaave's time they were a departure from theway medicine was traditionally taught.

Boerhaave's textbooks were translated into many languages and used throughoutEurope both during and after his lifetime. His main works included Institutiones medicae (Medical Principals) written in 1708, Aphorismide Cognoscendis et Curandis (Aphorisms on the Recognition and Treatment of Disease ) in 1709, and Elementia Cheminae(Elements of Chemistry)in 1724. These books brought together and organized masses of informationthat were available only piecemeal prior to this time. In addition to his contributions to medicine, Boerhaave also published many works describing new species of plants. His work as a professor of botany significantly improved the botanic gardens at the University of Leiden.

In his lifetime, Boerhaave was elected to the French Academy of Sciences andthe Royal Society in London. He attracted students from all over Europe including Russia's Peter the Great who studied with him in 1715. Patients also flocked to Leiden hoping for cures. He was so well know that it is reported thata letter from China, addressed only "To the illustrious Boerhaave, physicianin Europe" reached him without difficulty.

Hermann Boerhaave died in Leiden in 1738 after a long, painful illness. Through his students, he changed the way medicine was taught, particularly in themedical schools in Edinburgh, Vienna, and in Germany.

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