William Osler Biography

William Osler, a Canadian physician, is widely recognized as one of the most influential figures in the history of medicine. Renowned as the greatest physician in the English-speaking world, Osler’s expertise extended beyond medicine, as he was also a respected writer, medical philosopher, historian, teacher, and even a practical joker. Initially pursuing a career in the clergy, Osler shifted his focus to medicine while studying at Trinity College Toronto. He obtained his medical degree from McGill University in Montreal and furthered his education through postgraduate studies in Europe. Osler’s career began at McGill University, where he quickly rose from instructor to full professor in just one year. His reputation soon spread throughout North America, leading to an invitation to join the University of Pennsylvania as a professor of clinical medicine. After four years, Osler became one of the founding professors at Johns Hopkins Hospital, playing a crucial role in establishing it as one of the premier medical institutions. Later, he relocated to Oxford, where he served as the Regius Professor of Medicine until his passing at the age of seventy. Despite spending the majority of his career in the United States and England, Osler remained a proud Canadian citizen throughout his life.

Quick Facts

  • Canadian Celebrities Born In July
  • Also Known As: Sir William Osler, 1st Baronet
  • Died At Age: 70
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Grace
    • Father: Featherstone Lake Osler
    • Mother: Ellen Free Picton
    • Siblings: Britton Bath Osler, Edmund Boyd Osler
    • Children: Edward Revere Osler, Paul Revere Osler
  • Born Country: Canada
  • Quotes By William Osler
  • Canadian Men
  • Height: 5’6″ (168 cm), 5’6″ Males
  • Died on: December 29, 1919
  • Place of death: Oxford, England, United Kingdom
  • Cause of Death: Influenza Epidemic
  • Notable Alumni: McGill University Faculty Of Medicine
  • More Facts
  • Education: Trinity College, McGill University Faculty Of Medicine

Childhood & Early Life

William Osler was born on July 12, 1849, in Bond Head, Ontario, Canada. His father, Featherstone Lake Osler, was a former lieutenant in the Royal Navy who became an Anglican minister. His mother, Ellen Free Picton, was also from Cornwall, England. William was the eighth of nine children, with seven surviving siblings named Featherstone Lake, Britton Bath, Ellen Mary, Edward, Edmund Boyd, Edmund Lake, and Charlotte. He had a happy and mischievous childhood, and his birthday, falling on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, was celebrated by the entire community.


William began his education at Bond Head, but later moved to Dundas in 1857 to attend Dundas Grammar School. He was not particularly studious, but the American Civil War had a significant impact on him. At the age of thirteen, he sympathized with the Confederates and even drilled and mobilized a squad of volunteers. He was expelled from school in 1864 for shouting abuses at one of his masters, but he continued his education at Barrie Grammar School and Trinity College School. In 1867, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ministry.

Career in Canada

In 1870, William Osler received his degree in Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery from McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montreal. He then traveled to London for postgraduate training in general medicine and physiology. In 1873, he made one of his earliest scientific achievements by identifying blood platelets. He returned to Canada in 1874 and became a lecturer at McGill University Faculty of Medicine. He was promoted to professor in 1875 and remained at McGill until 1884. During this time, he became popular with students and made significant contributions to medical journals.

Career in America

In 1884, William Osler moved to Philadelphia to become a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He continued his research in pathology and became known as a teacher and clinical researcher. In 1889, he became the physician-in-chief of the newly established Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He played a crucial role in establishing the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and revolutionized medical education by introducing bedside clinical instruction. He became one of the most influential doctors in the English-speaking world.

Career in England

In 1904, William Osler accepted the Regius Professorship of Medicine at the University of Oxford. He taught once a week and had a small private practice, but his hope for a quieter life was soon shattered by numerous visitors and lecture invitations from all over Europe. He fought for public health measures and promoted clinical teaching in England. He also collected rare books and established a magnificent library, which he later bequeathed to McGill University.

Major Works

William Osler was an avid writer and published numerous journal articles and books. His most significant work is ‘The Principles and Practice of Medicine: Designed for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine’, which was first published in 1892. The textbook established him as one of the leading authorities in teaching modern medicine.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1892, William Osler married Grace Revere, and they had two sons. Their younger son, Edward Revere Osler, died during World War I. William Osler’s health began to decline, and he died in his Oxford home in 1919. He left behind a legacy in the field of medicine, and his name is associated with various diseases and medical terms. The Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University is named in his honor, and there are schools in Canada and the USA that bear his name.

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