Biography Of Joseph Lister -

Biography Of Joseph Lister

Biography Of Joseph Lister


Joseph Lister, a surgeon, introduced antiseptic and cleanliness principles to dramatically improve the survival rate from surgery. Lister overcame opposition from the medical profession and successfully promoted preventative methods until they became standard practice. Lister’s work improved the safety of major surgeries and allowed for a wider range of surgical procedures. He is frequently referred to by many as the “father of modern surgery.”

Early life

Lister was the son of a wealthy Quaker family. He raised Quaker and his education was more focused on the natural sciences than classical. This led to an interest in surgery and comparative anatomy. He aspired to be a surgeon from the time he was 16. He enrolled in University College London, one of the few Quakers-only universities, in 1848. There he studied botany and then received a BA. He graduated at 26 with a Bachelor of Science from the Royal College of Surgeons. He wrote to his father about the inner calling he felt to be a surgeon.

“If a person’s love of surgery is proof that they are suited for it, then I’m certain I’m suited to be a surgeon. For thou cannot conceive how much I enjoy the bloody and butchering field of the healing arts every day. My profession is a joy to me.

– Joseph Lister, Letter to his father (1853).

He was there for the first anesthetic operation in London, in 1846. This was a scientific breakthrough that would have profound implications for his work.

He moved to Edinburgh in 1854 to be an assistant to James Symes, the famed surgeon at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

He married Agnes Syme in 1857. She was the daughter of his chief physician. Agnes was interested in medical research, and she became a partner in Lister’s investigations for the rest of her life. Although they were close, they did not have children.


Biography Of Joseph Lister


Biography Of Joseph Lister


He was elected Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University in 1861. Lister was also a contributor to an important paper. Louis Pasteur Germ theory. Pasteur’s work on bacteria in food suggested Pasteur’s germ theory. ways to kill micro-organisms. For food, Pasteur used to heat, but Lister tried to find a chemical that would sterilize instruments and human tissue. Lister experimented with the use of carbolic acid. In August 1865, he used Carbolic acid as an antiseptic in the treatment of a young boy with a compound leg fracture from being run over by a cart in the street. Lister was surprised to find that a few days after the operation the bandage treated with carbolic acid did not develop any suppuration (pus) or gangrene. From this promising beginning, Lister developed a procedure for washing clothes, instruments, and bandages and sterilizing them with carbolic acid.

Antiseptic procedures

It was not clear at the time what the link between postoperative infection and a lack of cleanliness was. Sepsis was thought to be spread by bad air. Preventative measures included cleaning hospitals around noon. As a mark of their expertise, surgeons wore dirty, bloody cloaks. Lister estimates that 45-50% of the amputations in Glasgow hospital were due to sepsis in 1861. Because of the high mortality rate, there was an effort to ban surgery from hospitals at that time. Lister’s new antiseptic regimen in hospitals led to a drop in mortality rates from 45% down to 15% in his male accident room. Lister stated

“Previously, the 2 large wards where most of my cases are of an accident or operation were among the unhealthiest within the entire surgical division at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (…). But, since the antiseptic treatment was brought into full operation, their character has completely changed; so that in the past 9 months, not one instance of hospital gangrene, erysipelas, or pyemia has occurred in either

Joseph Lister, Dublin meeting British Medical Association August 1867


Biography Of Joseph Lister


In March 1867, Lister’s first publication in the Lancet was his work. Lister’s findings were met with opposition from the medical profession when he began to publish them. The Lancet in 1873 warned against Lister’s ideas. Although carbolic acid has its drawbacks, other surgeons were open to the idea and began using it. Lister discovered a higher level of receptivity in Africa. Germans also tried antiseptic methods during the Franco-German war. He received many visitors from Europe as a result. He was welcomed to Germany in 1875. He made a less successful trip to the USA in 1876.

After spending some time in Scotland, Lister moved to London and King’s College Hospital. Lister believed that London would lend more credence to his discoveries. He was appointed to King’s College Hospital in 1877.

Lister was also a pioneer in antiseptic surgery. He also developed new surgical techniques like ligatures, sutures (a row or stitches), and a better method of mastectomy. He developed a new treatment for a broken kneecap in 1877. Lister transformed a simple fracture into an intricate fracture. This would normally be avoided due to the possibility of infection. Lister believed in his antiseptic methods. Lister’s success with these knee operations was key to changing public perceptions of his antiseptic methods.

Lister’s innovative ideas became more widely accepted in the 1880s and he received greater respect and honors. He was elected President of The Clinical Society of London in 1881. He was the president of The Royal Society between 1895-1899. He was made a Baron Lister at Lyme Regis in 1897.

Lister retired almost entirely from the public eye after his wife’s 1893 death. He suffered a stroke and stopped writing. He continued to keep up with the most recent antiseptic research, however. Two days before the coronation, King Edward VII was struck with appendicitis in August 1902. The risk of infection made appendix removal a risky operation at the time. Before operating, the surgeons sought advice from Lister and followed his instructions to the letter. The King sent a message after he had survived the operation.

“I know that without you and your work, I wouldn’t be here today.”

It was a fitting tribute to Lister’s life work and symbolic of the almost total acceptance of his methods after initial resistance.

Lister was quiet and unassuming, but he was also deeply religious. He was raised in the Quaker faith but converted to the Scottish Episcopal tradition. Both religions were influential in his work ethic and lack of interest in monetary success.

Our profession wouldn’t be a desirable one if we didn’t have worldly honors and pecuniary rewards. It is filled with unique privileges that are second only to none in intense interest, pure pleasures, and a lot more. Our proud job is to care for the fleshly tabernacle that houses the immortal spirit. If we follow our path with integrity, our paths will be paved with unfettered truthfulness and unfeigned love. All the best in your pursuit of this noble and holy calling.

Joseph Lister – the University of Edinburgh, Conclusion of Graduation Address (1876).

Preventative medicine was developed in the 20th century. Lister’s methods led to asepsis, and other sterile techniques. He is credited with changing the way hospitals were run and how doctors approach operations. Lister made a significant contribution by linking Pasteur’s germ theory with a practical change to the operational procedures of doctors.

Lister died in Walmer Kent on February 10, 1912.


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