Harvey Cushing Biography

(American Neurosurgeon, Pathologist, Writer and the First Person to Describe Cushing’s Disease)

Birthday: April 8, 1869 (Aries)

Born In: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

Dr. Harvey Cushing was given the title of the father of modern neurological surgery as he earned a worldwide reputation in this field, bringing about bold and novel surgical innovations in the field of medicine and surgery. Descending from a long line of medical practitioners, Cushing was always expected to get into a similar field. 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.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Harvey Williams Cushing

Died At Age: 70


father: Williams and Henry Kirke Cush

mother: Elizabeth Maria, Elizabeth Maria "Betsey M"

children: Babe Paley, Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney, Henry Kirke Cushing, Mary Benedict Cushing, William Harvey Cushing

Born Country: United States

Neurologists American Men

Died on: October 7, 1939

U.S. State: Ohio

City: Cleveland, Ohio

More Facts

education: Harvard University, Yale University

awards: Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography

  • 1

    What contributions did Harvey Cushing make to the field of neurosurgery?

    Harvey Cushing is known as the "Father of Modern Neurosurgery" for pioneering techniques in brain surgery and advancing the understanding of the pituitary gland.
  • 2

    How did Harvey Cushing revolutionize the treatment of brain tumors?

    Cushing developed innovative surgical techniques for removing brain tumors, emphasizing the importance of precise localization and gentle tissue handling to improve patient outcomes.
  • 3

    What is the Cushing reflex and why is it named after Harvey Cushing?

    The Cushing reflex is a physiological response to increased intracranial pressure, characterized by high blood pressure and slow heart rate. It is named after Cushing due to his research on this phenomenon.
  • 4

    How did Harvey Cushing's research on the adrenal glands impact the field of endocrinology?

    Cushing's studies on the adrenal glands led to the discovery of Cushing's disease, a hormonal disorder caused by excess cortisol production, and laid the foundation for modern endocrinology.
  • 5

    What is the significance of Harvey Cushing's work on the localization of brain functions?

    Cushing's meticulous mapping of brain functions through surgical procedures helped establish the principle of cortical localization, influencing the development of neurosurgery and neuroscience.
Childhood & Early Life

Harvey Cushing was born Harvey Williams Cushing, on April 8, 1869, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Kirke Cushing and Bessie Williams. He was raised as one among 10 children in the family. Henry came from a family with a long history of physicians. His family was involved with the medical field for three generations before Henry. His father was also a physician.

Harvey attended the Cleveland Manual Training School, in Cleveland, and gained an interest in medicine and science. The school focused on experimental training which proved to be instrumental for Henry’s increasing interest in the career prospect of becoming a surgeon. In addition, the school also had a manual dexterity training program, which instilled an early fascination about the surgical field in Henry.

Following his school education, Harvey enrolled at Yale University and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1891. In the same year, he enrolled into the Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1895, with a summa cum laude distinction. Following his graduation, Harvey began his internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

After he completed his internship, he studied with the famed surgeon William Steward Halstead, at the John Hopkins Hospital, located in Baltimore. By then, he had developed a major interest in neurosurgery and he trained with Doctor Emil Theodor Kocher at Bern, in Switzerland. He also trained with the famous neurophysiologist Charles Scott Sherrington, in Liverpool.

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After completing his training, he moved to Baltimore and began his private practice as a neurosurgeon. He was hired at the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and was made an associate professor of surgery. There, he was given the full charge of handling the brain surgeries involving the central nervous system.

He conducted an in-depth study of the intracerebral pressures with his peers and played a key role in the localization of the cerebral centres. He also used local anaesthesia while operating, which was not the norm at that time. He also wrote a paper about the use of local anaesthesia during the hernia operation. The paper got published in Europe, where he gained an immense reputation.

He was hired as the surgeon-in-chief at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1911. Just a year later, he was hired as a professor of surgery at the Harvard Medical School. As his reputation kept increasing over the years, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The First World War broke out in 1914  but America was still not a part of it. Yet, Harvey left for Europe in March 1915 and worked in Gibraltar and Paris for providing medical services to the wounded. The group of 13 American surgeons and 4 nurses ran ‘The American Ambulance’ there. He returned back to America in June. But his duties increased with the American entry into the war in 1917. He spent the war years in base hospitals, treating the wounded. He was also assigned as the senior consultant of neurological surgery for the American Expeditionary Forces that were stationed in Europe.

His services during the war were recognized by the British and the U.S. governments. He was awarded the Companion of the Bath honour in Britain and the Distinguished Service Medal by the U.S. Army.

During the war, he also treated Lieutenant Edward Osler, who was the son of Sir William Osler. Harvey later wrote the biography of Sir William Osler, The Life of Sir William Osler, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1926.

His contribution to the world of neurosurgery has been highly revered throughout the world. He was one of the first surgeons to advocate the use of a Riva-Rocci sphygmomanometer, a device that was used to measure peri-operative blood pressure. This method was later adopted by the medical community and was hailed as a safe and sound method to undertake complex surgeries.

Harvey is known to develop many surgical techniques that helped neurosurgeons across the world operate with much more accuracy and success outcomes. He thus became one of the leaders of the field in the early 20th century. It was due to his works in the field that neurosurgery became an autonomous discipline in surgery.

In the early 1900s, while he was practising in Europe, he first introduced Cushing’s  Reflex, after he studied the impact of compression on the human brain. While the studies on the phenomenon were being conducted before him, his was more detailed than other neurosurgeons. He was able to give a detailed description of the timings, local variations and the staging of the observations.

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He is also associated with the discovery of Cushing’s syndrome. It is perhaps his biggest claim to fame, along with using X-rays to diagnose brain tumours. He first discovered the syndrome in 1912, wherein he reported an endocrinological syndrome of the pituitary gland. He officially published the report in 1932 and the disease was given his name, thus it became known as Cushing’s Syndrome.

He is also credited with the development of many surgical instruments that are in use even to this day. Two of the major inventions he is credited with are the Cushing Forceps and the Cushing ventricular cannula.

He is also known as the inventor of a surgical magnet, which was first used by him during the First World War, to extract shrapnel from the heads of soldiers in the war. He invented it with his team of the Harvard Medical Unit.

For his contributions to the field of neurosurgery, he was awarded many honours such as The Lister Medal. He was also a contender for winning a Nobel Prize, at least 38 times. In addition, he was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1934 and was made a fellow of the Royal Society of London. He has also served as the president of the History of Science society.

Personal Life & Death

Harvey Cushing married his childhood friend named Katharine Stone Crowell in 1902. The couple had five children together.

Towards the end of his life, Harvey suffered from many health difficulties. He had vascular insufficiency in both his legs. He was advised to go for an amputation, but he declined. He stopped smoking instead and got better within weeks.

He thus lectured around promoting smoking cessation. He had been a heavy smoker all his life.

He passed away on October 7, 1939, from a heart attack. He was 70 years old at the time of his demise.

Facts About Harvey Cushing

Harvey Cushing was known for his love of animals, particularly his pet dogs. He often included them in his family photos and enjoyed spending time with them in his personal life.

Cushing had a unique sense of humor and was known for his witty remarks and playful banter with colleagues and friends

Despite his intense focus on his work as a pioneering neurosurgeon, Cushing also had a deep appreciation for the arts. He collected rare books, paintings, and sculptures, and enjoyed visiting museums and galleries in his free time.

Cushing had a fascination with history and often incorporated historical references into his lectures and writings.

In addition to his groundbreaking work in neurosurgery, Cushing was also an avid gardener
He took great pride in his gardens at home and found solace in tending to his plants and flowers amidst his busy professional life.

See the events in life of Harvey Cushing in Chronological Order

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