With all the amazing medical technology and knowledge we have today, it's probably hard to believe that much of modern medicine got its start from a single man, who was born in Scotland in 1728. This man was John Hunter, a surgeon who is regarded as one of the most distinguished surgeons and scientists of his time. It's interesting to note that Hunter didn't start out wanting to become a surgeon or even a scientist. In fact, he did very poorly in school and by the time he was seventeen he worked as an assistant to a cabinet maker, but he decided he wanted a more settled occupation and obtained a job working for his older brother William (who was an anatomist). William trained John in the art of dissection and specimen preservation. John learned quite a deal from his work and apparently found it very interesting, as he later became a surgeon and opened up his own anatomy school 1764.
John Hunter was known for being very blunt and having an argumentative nature, however, he was also very kind and often offered his assistance to the poor for free. He would usually attend to the poor quicker than the wealthy. His reasoning for this was that the poor didn't have time to spare because they usually had to do physical work to make a living; the rich, however, had nothing to do when they went home. Hunter knew that without his help many poor people would lose their entire livelihoods.
As he grew more and more in his career, he made many discoveries that helped advance the medical field including his extensive study of inflammation, the understanding of how the digestive system works, and the role of the lymphatic system. Later in his career, in 1768, he was appointed as surgeon of St. George's Hospital. After that, Hunter became a member of the Company of Surgeons and in 1176 he became the surgeon appointed to King George III.
One of his most known accomplishments was completing the study of human development from fetus to infant. He was able to prove to the world that a fetus and its mother have separate blood supplies. He also unraveled the mystery of digestion. He verified that fat is absorbed into a type of small intestine lymphatic capillary, called a lacteal.
Although he made some incredible discoveries which have helped mankind, he was a very unusual person and many of his experimental methods were (and in some cases, still are) very controversial.
He was very well known for his motto "Don't think. Try the experiment", but many of his experiments were quite cruel. He completed several experiments on live animals in an effort to understand the nature of organs and organ systems. In many of these experiments, he would cut open animals in order to observe how their bodies worked, and watch them until they died.
Although he was very kind when it came to providing help to those that needed it, he sometimes was very selfish when dealing with people who he could not help. In one case he obtained the skeleton of a 7'7 giant named Charles Byrne against his deathbed wishes. (Byrne had asked to be buried at sea.) He did this by bribing a member of the funeral party. He was also involved in stealing fresh bodies from graveyards, which was known as "body snatching". He often upset people by dissecting bodies and removing organs because it was generally believed at the time that a person could not enter the kingdom of Heaven when they died if their physical body was not complete.
John Hunter had a very successful career despite the controversy he caused and he helped advance the world of medicine and science in many ways. Despite the controversy of some of his experimental methods, he was successful in making the scientific community realize the importance of using experimentation to prove the effectiveness of treatments. And although he must have been a very strange person to have such a passion for the medical field that he would resort to such cruel methods, we must admit that in the long run, his work has helped mankind for the better.
Wikipedia. John Hunter (surgeon). Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hunter_(surgeon) on February 12, 2018.
Encyclopedia Britannica. John Hunter. Accessed at https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Hunter-British-surgeon on February 12, 2018.