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Harvey Williams Cushing Edit Profile


Harvey Williams Cushing was an American neurosurgeon who developed operative techniques that made brain surgery feasible. He was the leading neurosurgeon of the early 20th century.


Harvey Williams Cushing was born on April 8, 1869 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the youngest of ten children born to Bessie Williams and Kirke Cushing. His family had a long list of medical practitioners who were all well-equipped doctors at the time.


At the age of 18 Cushing went to Yale College from which he graduated in 1891. In 1895 he received a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. While an undergraduate student at Harvard, Cushing administered ether anaesthesia, a task then practiced by students and a rudimentary procedure at the time. One patient anesthetized by Cushing died, leaving the young and bright student deeply depressed. Cushing even considered quitting medicine, but, after meditating about the tragedy, decided to continue. After he graduated from Harvard, he took up an internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital with the hope of studying under big names.


After a year's internship at Massachusetts General Hospital Cushing went to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, where he was William Halsted's resident in surgery. From Halsted he learned meticulous surgical technique. During a trip to Europe in 1900 Cushing worked with some of Europe's leading surgeons and physiologists, including Charles Scott Sherrington, Theodore Kocher, and Hugo Kronecker. They directed his attention to neurosurgery, to which he devoted the rest of his life. Shortly after his return to Johns Hopkins he was made Associate Professor of Surgery.

In 1907 Cushing began studies of the pituitary gland. He unraveled many of the disorders affecting the gland and showed that a surgical approach to the pituitary was possible. In 1911 he introduced special sutures to control the severe bleeding that accompanies brain surgery and often made it impossible. In 1912 The Pituitary Body and Its Disorders was published. In that same year he accepted the Moseley professorship of surgery at Harvard and an appointment as surgeon in chief at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. During World War I he served in France as director of Base Hospital No. 5. His wartime experiences formed the basis of a book, From a Surgeon's Journal (1936). Cushing's active affiliation with Harvard continued until 1932, when he was named professor emeritus. The following year he accepted the Sterling professorship of neurology at Yale.

Throughout his career Cushing studied brain tumors and published many important books on the subject, including: Tumours of the Nervus Acusticus and the Syndrome of the Cerebellopontile (1917); A Classification of the Tumours of the Glioma (1926), with P. Bailey; Tumours Arising from the Blood Vessels of the Brain: Angiomatous Malformations and Hemangioblastomas (1928), with Bailey; Intracranial Tumours (1932); and Meningiomas: Their Classification, Regional Behavior, Life History, and Surgical End Results (1938). He also published numerous historical essays.

In 1937 Cushing accepted a position as Director of Studies in the History of Medicine at Yale. He guided the development of a historical library to which he left his own excellent collection of historical books. He was especially interested in Andreas Vesalius, the 16th-century anatomist, and was at work on the Bio-Bibliography of Vesalius at the time of his death, on October 7, 1939. The work was completed by his friends and published in 1943.


  • Cushing earned a worldwide reputation in the field of neurological surgery, bringing about bold and novel surgical innovations in the field of medicine and surgery. His use of local anesthesia in brain surgery was an outstanding achievement, as were his many special surgical techniques. Many of the tools, techniques and procedures used in the operation theater today are the ones that were developed by Harvey Cushing in the early 19th century. He defied all medical traditions and took control of the most important, functioning system in the human body; the Central Nervous System. He discovered the deadly Cushing’s disease and was also rewarded for his efforts and contribution to surgery and science. The Harvey Cushing Society, a first-of-its-kind, neurosurgical association was set up in honor of the prominent neurosurgeon. With his expertise, innovations and discoveries, Harvey Cushing made Neurology and Neurosurgery one of the most important divisions in medicine all over the world.

    In 1926 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for a book recounting the life of Sir William Osler. In 1930 he was awarded the Lister Medal for his contributions to surgical science.


  • Other Interests

    Cushing was said to have been very interested in fishing, and his interest grew after he was taken on high school expedition by his teachers to the Great Lakes in 1844. Ever since, Cushing made fishing a hobby and was reportedly seen fishing on countless occasions.


In 1902 Cushing married Katharine Crowell, and they had five children in the following years.

Kirke Cushing

He was a physician himself, which is probably how Harvey developed an interest and eagerness towards the subject.

Bessie Williams

Katharine Crowell

She was his Cleveland childhood friend.