History of Respiratory Medicine in Canada | Open Access
The Medical Life of Henry Norman Bethune
BACKGROUND: Henry Norman Bethune is one of the most exciting and incredible surgeons that Canada has ever produced. Indeed, he is often characterized as one of the world’s best-known surgeons. He was an innovator and his scientific contributions have stood the test of time. In Canada, he will forever be remembered as a social activist committed to the welfare of the poor and to the reform of the health care system. In the People’s Republic of China, he is idolized and remains the only foreigner to ever become a national hero.OBJECTIVE: To detail the numerous and significant achievements of Henry Norman Bethune in the field of thoracic surgery and as a social activist and describe his heroic war-time actions on the battlefields of both Spain and China.METHOD: Information was gathered through the reading of the numerous publications written about the life and work of Bethune, interviews with knowledgeable people from Canadian and Chinese universities, analysis of Bethune’s own publications, and extensive experience of one of the authors in China.RESULTS: In the social sense, Henry Norman Bethune had a difficult personality, but he was deeply caring about the plight of his patients, especially the poor. As a thoracic surgeon, he could be ingenious, thoughtful and effective but he could also be abrasive, restless and temperamental. His scientific contributions were sound and, at the time, gained worldwide attention. As an activist, he led a crusade to reform the Canadian health care system, demanding free health care for all. His outstanding work during the Spanish Civil War, where he organized the first ever mobile blood transfusion unit, and during the Sino-Japanese war, where he was totally committed to the welfare of both soldiers and civilian population, were deliberate acts of resistance against Fascist onslaught and enthusiasm for the Communist cause.CONCLUSIONS: Henry Norman Bethune was unconventional and a revolutionary, but he was brilliant. He will forever be remembered as an innovative thoracic surgeon and outstanding humanitarian.
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