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Osler Centenary Papers: Osler as medical leader
  1. Donald RJ Singer
  1. Correspondence to Professor Donald RJ Singer; fpm.chandos{at}


The Canadian physician Sir William Osler is a key figure in the history of modern medicine. He encouraged lifelong learning for doctors, starting with bedside teaching. Contemporary with Old World figures such as Pasteur in Paris and Virchow in Berlin, he played a major role in raising awareness among clinicians of the importance of the scientific basis for the practice of medicine. He championed a rational approach to treatment and did much to encourage avoidance of ‘unnecessary drugging’ by prescribers. He is credited with playing a key role in improving education of medical students and postgraduate education of doctors, with important benefits for the care of hospital patients. He also had a major influence on his medical colleagues through founding and leading medical societies. A century on from his death in December 1919, his specific contributions and how he achieved them are not well known. The aim of this article is to consider the evidence that Osler was an influential medical leader and to reflect on the extent to which the achievements which resulted from his leadership are relevant to modern clinical medicine. Questions of interest include his leadership style, what made for his success as a leader, his medical achievements both in North America and in England, his own insight into leadership and how he was viewed by his peers.

  • medical education & training

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  • Contributors The author is President of the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine for which the Postgraduate Medical Journal and Health Policy and Technology are official publications.

  • 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.