Who Is Dr. William Beaumont?

by Dr Sam Girgis on May 30, 2011

On this Memorial Day, I would like to dedicate this blog post to all the American veterans of war.  A special dedication should go to those veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this great country of ours, and have given their lives in the line of duty.  They have served our country honorably and without their generosity, we would not enjoy the freedoms that we do today.  Let us all be proud of our military men and women.  It is because of them that we live in the best country on the earth.

I was going to leave this blog post as is, in observation of Memorial Day.  I instead decided to discuss and highlight a veteran of the United States military, who was also a physician.  I hope this will become the beginning of a “Who is?” series, and in the future will highlight other physician of accomplishment in history.

Who is Dr. William Beaumont?

The Beaumont family immigrated to the American colonies in the 1600’s, and William’s father and uncles fought in the Revolutionary War.  Dr. William Beaumont was a military surgeon, who served in the War of 1812.  Before serving in the war, he began “reading” under Dr. Benjamin Moore of Champlain.  At that time, there were very few medical schools in the United States and medical students began by studying with the guidance of senior doctor, and then performing an apprenticeship.  Dr. Beaumont completed his apprenticeship with Dr. Benjamin Chandler and Dr. Truman Powell in St. Albans, Vermont.  The Medical Society of Vermont subsequently approved him to practice medicine.  After obtaining his medical license, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a surgeon’s mate.  During the War of 1812, Dr. Beaumont was in charge of amputating arms and legs of wounded soldiers.  He also treated soldiers for dysentery, pleurisy, pneumonia, sore throats, and rheumatism with medications that included wine, opium, snakeroot, mercury, wood resins, and turpentine.  Obviously, the state of the pharmacopeia was not as advanced as it is today.  At the end of the war, Dr. Beaumont left the army and started a private practice in Plattsburgh, NY.  He later re-enlisted in 1819, and served as a post surgeon at Fort Mackinac.  In June of 1822, Dr. Beaumont treated Alexis St. Martin for an accidental gunshot wound to the stomach.  He was treated palliatively, and Dr. Beaumont gave him a grave prognosis as he thought that he would die of a fatal injury.  Mr. St. Martin survived but developed a hole, or fistula, in his stomach.  Mr. St. Marin could not return to his previous line of work, and Dr. Beaumont hired him as a handyman.  Dr. Beaumont saw the opportunity for medical experimentation and conducted several trials of gastric digestion that he would become famous for as the “Father of Gastric Physiology”.  Dr. Beaumont inserted meat attached to silk string into the fistula of Mr. St. Martin and removed it after various intervals of time for analysis.  He also extracted gastric acid from Mr. St. Martin and used it in experiments of digestion.  Dr. William Beaumont would late write a book describing his experiments entitled “Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion“.  Dr. Beaumont served at several other posts in the U.S. army which included Fort Niagara in New York, Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and finally in St. Louis, Missouri.  Dr. Beaumont has had several schools and hospitals named after him and they include William Beaumont High School in St. Louis, Missouri, William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, William Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan, William Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and finally William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.  Dr. Beaumont followed the Hippocratic phrase that states, “He who would become a surgeon should join an army and follow it”.

CLICH HERE for Reference

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