John Pringle Biography (1707-1782)


John Pringle was born in Roxburgh, Scotland. He was sent at an early age to receive a classical education at the University of St. Andrews, where he studied under his uncle, Francis Pringle. He entered the University of Edinburgh in 1727, intending to pursue a career in business. After one year, he left theuniversity to work in Amsterdam, where he hoped to acquire practical experience in commerce. Upon visiting the University of Leyden, he happened to attend a lecture by the distinguished Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave. Impressed by the lecture, Pringle decided to enroll in the University, where hesubsequently studied anatomy and surgery under Boerhaave and Bernhard Siegfried Albinus. Pringle received his degree in 1730, and he later completed postgraduate medical training in Paris. In 1734 he returned to Scotland, where heestablished himself in private practice while serving as professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. In 1741 Pringle was appointed attending physician at the British Army hospital in Flanders during the war of the Austrian succession. Pringle also served at the battle of Culloden in 1745. In 1748, with the signing of a peace accord, Pringle settledinto civilian medical practice, but he retained his position as military physician and surgeon. In recognition of his distinguished career, the royal family honored him with medical appointments to the Duke of Cumberland, Queen Charlotte and King George III, as well as a baronetcy in 1766 (a baronetcy is arank of honor below a baron and above a knight; the holder of that rank is abaronet). Pringle was a member of the Royal Society (and the first person touse the term antiseptic in a paper he read before that body), serving as itspresident from 1772 to 1778. In 1778 he succeeded the Swedish botanist CarlLinnaeus as one of eight foreign members of the Academie des Sciences in Paris.

Today, many historians recognize Pringle as the father of modern military medicine. Pringle's contributions to medicine included putting into place a setof guidelines aimed at protecting the health of army personnel and making efforts to improve the conditions of prisoners of war. Pringle was the author ofObservations of Disease of the Army (1752), which became a classic reference work on military hygiene and contagious diseases. Through six editions over 25 years it covered the fundamental principles of sanitation and housing, and notably the need for latrines and ventilated barracks. (Pringle was instrumental in securing better ventilation for those confined in ships, jails, barracks, and mines.) Observations was based on extensive clinical studies conducted while he served as director of the British Army hospital inFlanders.

Within a year of assuming that position, he had seen combat duty in the battle of Dettingen in Germany. Noting the obstacles facing medical personnel in times of war, Pringle proposed an international convention that would protectall medical facilities from attack. It was not until more than 100 years later, with the establishment of the Red Cross (1863), that primary hospitals andmedical personnel were finally granted neutrality status.

Observations looked at many of the infectious diseases associated withmilitary life, including typhus, malaria, epidemic meningitis, and dysentery. In describing these diseases as they developed through stages, Pringle supplied clinical evidence in support of the theory of contagion occurring from the spread of animalcules (minute, usually microscopic, organisms). Pringle is also credited with naming influenza.

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