Massachusetts Medical Society's Physician Focus

Physician Focus 100th
Medicine's Greatest Achievements


  • The stethoscope, invented in France in 1816, is still one of the primary diagnostic tools used by physicians today.

  • The discovery of anesthesia, occurring in Boston in 1846 at Massachusetts General Hospital, was a dramatic, historic advance for surgery.

  • Joseph Lister’s development of aseptic surgery in the late 1800s was a major achievement in preventing infection.

  • Vaccines have eliminated many infectious diseases and have prevented suffering and death for millions of people around the world.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

The world of medicine is marked by constant research and discovery. New knowledge leads to new treatments and new technology, and ultimately to better health and longer life for patients. How this knowledge reaches health care providers is critical for patient care.

The October edition of Physician Focus marks the 100th production of the show and has a dual purpose: to examine some of medicine’s greatest accomplishments and what they mean for patients today, and to pay tribute to the New England Journal of Medicine, widely regarded as one of the most-respected medical journals in the world, as it celebrates its 200th year of publication this year in communicating medical knowledge to physicians and health care professionals around the globe.

Medicine’s Greatest Achievements features two distinguished NEJM editors: Jeffrey Drazen, M.D., Editor-in-Chief, and Julie Ingelfinger, M.D., Deputy Editor. Hosting the program is primary care physician Bruce Karlin, M.D.

The physicians discuss such landmark developments as the stethoscope, anesthesia, aseptic surgery, antibiotics, and vaccines and how these have improved the lives of millions of people around the world.

The development of anesthesia, for example, which took place in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital, was a huge step forward for surgery. “Prior to the development of anesthesia,” said Dr. Ingelfinger, “having any kind of operation was a dreadful thing. With the patient insensible from anesthesia, there is more chance to explore and do increasingly complicated procedures.”

Anesthesia, along with Joseph Lister’s development of aseptic surgery, began to transform surgery from “a dangerous last resort,” in Dr. Drazen’s words, “to something that has become an art….Surgery has gone from fixing things that were going to kill you to enhancing not only the length of your life, but the quality of it.”

Communicating these discoveries and keeping physicians informed for 200 years is also a remarkable achievement, and the role of a publication like NEJM, from its beginnings in 1812 on the top floor of the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston to the present day, has been simple, direct, and vital, according to its Editor-in-Chief.

“A doctor who reads the Journal,” said Dr. Drazen, “is up-to-date so his or her patients get the best possible care. When [physicians] read about it in the New England Journal, you know it has been carefully subjected to the best scientific criteria, and the doctors bringing it to you aren’t trying to make money for themselves. We’re not trying to sell anything but health.”

Watch the accompanying program for the full discussion, including conversation on how diseases such as tuberculosis and smallpox were tamed, milestones in cardiac surgery and fighting heart disease, and details of the early days of the New England Journal of Medicine.

MMS/Richard Gulla

New England Journal of Medicine, Celebrating 200 Years

Center for the History of Medicine, Countway Library of Medicine

Museum of Medical History and Innovation, Massachusetts General Hospital

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

"Physician Focus 100th" PSA

From left: Bruce Karlin, M.D.; Julie Ingelfinger, M.D.; Jeffrey Drazen, M.D.
hi-res photo
promo slide