The Clinical Teaching of Herman Boerhaave

Herman Boerhaave

Herman Boerhaave

On December 31, 1668, Dutch botanist, chemist, Christian humanist and physician Herman Boerhaave was born. Boerhaave is regarded as the founder of clinical teaching and of the modern academic hospital and is sometimes referred to as “the father of physiology”. He is best known for demonstrating the relation of symptoms to lesions and, in addition, he was the first to isolate the chemical urea from urine. He was the first physician that put thermometer measurements to clinical practice.

During his early years, Herman Boerhaave studied for a divinity degree and intended to become a preacher. However, after his father, a Protestant pastor, passed away, Boerhaave was offered a scholarship and he entered the University of Leiden. In 1689, he earned his degree in philosophy with a dissertation on the difference of the mind from the body. In his dissertation, Boerhaave attacked the works of Epicurus, Thomas Hobbes and Spinoza.

In 1701 Herman Boerhaave was appointed lecturer on the institutes of medicine at Leiden. In his inaugural discourse, De commendando Hippocratis studio, he recommended to his pupils that great physician as their model. Boerhaave became a professor of botany and medicine around 1709 at Leiden and managed to publish numerous works descriptive of new species of plants. In 1714, Boerhaave was rector of the university and succeeded Govert Bidloo in the chair of practical medicine. In this capacity Boerhaave introduced the modern system of clinical instruction. His fame in the field of the school of medicine became known throughout Europe. It is believed that when Peter the Great went to Holland in 1716, he also took lessons from Boerhaave. It is further assumed that Voltaire came to see Boerhaave as well as Carl Linnaeus, who became a close friend of the scientist.

Through his students, Boerhaave exerted an influence on later medical teaching at Edinburgh, at Vienna, and in Germany, and he is often credited with founding the modern system of teaching medical students at the patient’s bedside. His textbooks kept influencing the world of medicine also after his death, these works include Institutiones Medicae, Aphorismi de Cognoscendis et Curandis Morbis, and Elementa Chemiae.

At yovisto you can learn more about Science, Medicine, and Religion in a video lecture by Professor Lacquer at Berkeley.

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