It’s National Doctor’s Day and a time to remember the many doctors around the world who act as everyday heroes to their patients. Did you know that many doctors throughout history achieved notoriety in areas beyond medicine? Here’s a look at four notable figures in history who were also ophthalmologists – physicians that specialize in medical and surgical eye care.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Arguably the most famous ophthalmologist-turned author is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle studied ophthalmology in Paris and opened his own practice in 1882. However, his practice never did well and while waiting for patients he began to write his now famous stories. In 1891, he gave up medicine altogether in order to focus on his writing. Medical themes and personalities frequent Doyle's stories. In addition to Dr. Watson, Doyle included over 27 physicians in his works. Two of the Sherlock Holmes stories relate directly to ophthalmology, as do several of his non-Sherlockian works. Doyle was knighted in 1902 for his medical services during the Boer War (1889-1902).
Dr. Julian Caesar (Jules) Stein (1896-1981) practiced ophthalmology prior to establishing the talent agency named Music Corporation of America in 1924. MCA represented the very top actors in the business including Shirley Temple, Ronald Reagan and Bette Davis to name just a few. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s MCA acquired Decca Records, Universal Studios and Revue Productions becoming a major producer of movies, television and music while at the same time, withdrawing as a talent agency. Dr. Stein never forgot ophthalmology and during his lifetime he worked on three major projects including the founding of Research to Prevent Blindness (1966), creating the Jules Stein Eye Institute (1966) at UCLA, and lobbying for the National Eye Institute (1968).
José Rizal (1861‐1896) is a Filipino national hero. He grew up in the colonial Philippines, under the rule of Spain. While studying ophthalmology in Paris and Heidelberg, Dr. Rizal published two satirical novels that indicted the Spanish and the role of the Catholic clergy in the rule of the Philippines. When he returned to the Philippines, the colonial government quickly branded Rizal a revolutionary and banished him to the city of Dapitan. While in exile, Rizal helped his community to build a hospital among other civic works. In 1896 Dr. Rizal was arrested again and tried for rebellion, sedition and conspiracy. Dr. Rizal was convicted on all three charges and three months after the arrest, he was executed by firing squad. Today, there are three Rizal museums in the Philippines celebrating his life and work.
Dr. Renée Richards (b.1934) took a hiatus from her ophthalmology practice in 1977 to become a world-renowned sports personality, playing professionally until 1981. At the height of Dr. Richards' tennis career, she was ranked 20th in the nation. Her greatest successes on the tennis court were made playing doubles with partners like Billie Jean King. In 1981 Dr. Richards began coaching tennis great Martina Navratilova, helping her to win the Wimbledon Championship in 1982 and 1983. Dr. Richards then returned to medicine, retiring in 2013. Dr. Richards was inducted into the U.S. Tennis Association Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.
On National Doctor’s Day, we pay tribute not only to these four famous figures, but to all ophthalmologists worldwide who do so much in and out of the clinic to protect sight and empower lives.
Abridged text and images about Drs. Doyle, Stein, Rizal and Richards provided courtesy of the Museum of Vision.