FROM THE COLLECTIONS
A tribute to Dr. John Dix Fisher ’20.
By Joseph Dowling Jr., MD '47
Brown University’s school of medicinein its present reincarnation has only been in existence for 36 years. But
1975 is not when Brown’s medicalhistory began: over the decades beforethe medical school was established, many Brown students pursued medicineafter graduating from the College, going on to distinguished careers in thefield. These graduates have been largely unrecognized and forgotten. A case in
point is Dr. John Dix Fisher.
Today, the stethoscope (usually slungover a white coat) has largely replaced the caduceus as the symbol of medicine. It was Brown’s Dr. Fisher who introducedthe stethoscope to the UnitedStates. He came to Brown from Needham, Massachusetts, and graduated in the class of 1820. He then went on tothe Massachusetts Medical College of Harvard University, as Harvard Medical School was then known. After graduating he went abroad for post-graduate training, in keeping with the custom of the time. He studied in several of the great medical centers of Europe, including Paris—then the hub of medical knowledge.
In Paris, Dr. Fisher came under the tutelage of Professor René Laënnec, the actual inventor of the stethoscope. Dr. Laënnec also revolutionized the diagnosisof chest and heart diseases. He wrote the first descriptions of bronchiectasis and cirrhosis and classified several pulmonary conditions, including
pneumonia. Under Dr. Laënnec’s guidance, Dr. Fisher became practiced at auscultation, a skill that he introduced along with his stethoscope to his colleagues in Massachusetts on his return.
Alpert Medical School