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In his life of Sir William Osler, the historian Michael Bliss wrote ‘To a modern biographer, searching for the feet of clay that make subjects credible, the remarkable unanimity of the sources is disconcerting’.1 The sources that Bliss referred to here included not only doctors who were almost as distinguished as Osler, like Harvey Cushing, but everyone else from medical students to cabinet ministers. Osler seems to have been one of those rare individuals who combined an astonishing level of professional achievement with personal warmth and kindness. It is hard if not impossible to disagree with his biographer’s overall judgement: ‘He led a more than slightly sainted life’.2
It has been a privilege to be guest editor for this special themed edition of the Postgraduate Medical Journal to mark the centenary of Osler’s death. The issue brings together a wide range of contributions from institutions in North America and the UK that Osler helped to create or develop. We have two articles by Mary Hague-Yearl, the head of the magnificent library at Osler’s alma mater in Montreal, which now houses his priceless collection of medical manuscripts and books, and was mercifully rescued last year from a fire that threatened its fabric and the collection itself.3 4 A paper by Scott Wright and Vivek Murthy represents Osler’s enduring legacy at Johns Hopkins University,5 and his continuing influence as a role model. Terence Ryan—emeritus professor and archivist of the history of medicine at Osler’s former home in Oxford—shares his reflections on the time that Osler spent at the latter end of his career as Regius professor of medicine.6
As well as representing many of the places where Osler worked, we have also attempted to cover the broad range of his professional roles. Helen Leach and Jamie Coleman consider his work as an educator.7 An account of Osler as a leader and innovator8 has been written by Donald Singer, president of the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine. Osler helped to found that organisation, which in turn gave rise to this journal, as well as putting postgraduate medical education on an established footing in the UK.9 Because of his passionate commitment to studying the link between pathology and clinical medicine, Osler would surely have approved of the inclusion of a paper by Prudence Gregory, Najib Rahman and Gary Lee, describing his final pleural illness and how it might be treated today.10
Alongside these articles, the images in this edition have been chosen to illustrate different phases and aspects of Osler’s career, to create a visual as well as written impression of the man. We hope that every reader of the Postgraduate Medical Journal will enjoy all these different perspectives on Sir William Osler, his continuing impact on contemporary medicine and his humanity as a doctor.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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