John F. Kennedy begins his book Profiles in Courage as follows: “This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues – courage…and these are the stories of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators and the grace with which they endured.” This course will demonstrate that physicians, at times, are called upon to display courage as well.
Ignaz Simmelweiss, a Hungarian physician, championed hand washing to combat postpartum infection and is known as the “savior of mothers.” Frances Kelsey, a young physician at the FDA, exposed the dangers of thalidomide and took on the pharmaceutical industry. Judah Folkman suffered personal invectives and had his scientific papers rejected as he founded the field of angiogenesis; on one of his NIH grant applications a reviewer noted, “This is the limit. We do not want Folkman to build an empire.” C. Everett Koop, an accomplished pediatric surgeon when he became Surgeon General in 1981, became engaged in controversies involving abortion, tobacco, and AIDS.
These four are among the courageous physicians we will meet in this course.