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History of Medicine |

Benjamin Franklin and Medicine

J. V. Hirschmann, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

From the VA Medical Center and the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.


Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: J.V. Hirschmann, MD, Medical Service (111) University of Washington, VA Medical Center, 1660 South Columbian Way, Seattle, WA 98108; e-mail, pepsi@u.washington.edu.


Ann Intern Med. 2005;143(11):830-834. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-143-11-200512060-00012
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Benjamin Franklin, called Dr. Franklin after receiving an honorary degree in 1759 for his contributions to understanding electricity, was not formally trained as a physician. Nevertheless, he had numerous interests in medicine, including experimentation, shrewd observations about health and disease in himself and others, civic activities, and inventions of medical devices. These achievements show his capacity for detailed, perceptive insights; his fastidiousness in recording his observations; and his thoughtful analyses of scientific phenomena and human conduct. In medicine, perhaps uniquely in his life, his major interests intersected: scientific pursuits, civic activities, amused scrutiny of human behavior, and the desire to improve the lot of his fellow man.

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Benjamin Franklin's Contributions to Medicine
Posted on December 20, 2005
Tsung O. Cheng
George Washington University, Washington, DC
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

It was by sheer coincidence that Hirschmann's article on "Benjamin Franklin and Medicine" [1] appeared in the same month of December as "The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin" by Gensel in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine [2]. Because not many medical doctors in the United States read the latter journal regularly, I thought it worthwhile to point out some aspects of Benjamin Franklin in Gensel's article that were not mentioned in Hirschmann's article.

Franklin's most famous advices on health included such maxims as: "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" [2], "Be not sick too late, nor well too soon" [2], "Time is an herb that cures all diseases" [2], and "Eat to live and not live to eat" [2].

"Many of Franklin's medical writings showed the same spirit of public activism that characterized his civic and national projects. He repeatedly used his skills with pen and press in support of innovations that could make a difference in the public health" [2].

As was pointed out by Hirschmann [1], Franklin was called Dr. Franklin after 1759, because he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland for his contributions to understanding electricity. Frankly speaking, Franklin was almost equally qualified to be called a doctor of medicine for his medical interests and contributions.

Tsung O. Cheng, MD, FACP Professor of Medicine George Washington University Medical Center Washington, D.C.

References 1. Hirschmann JV: Benjamin Franklin and medicine. Ann Intern Med 2005;143:830-834. 2. Gensel L: The medical world of Benjamin Franklin. J Royal Soc Med 2005;98:534-538.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

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