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April 2003

On Being a Surgeon, or the Good Old Days of Surgery

Author Affiliations

Dr Putnam is an independent scholar and medical historian in Concord, Mass.

Arch Surg. 2003;138(4):435-439. doi:10.1001/archsurg.138.4.435

The early US physician and medical educator, Nathan Smith, MD, was also—perhaps above all—a surgeon of considerable distinction. This brief look at the surgical side of his career presents some of the evidence for Smith's having been singled out so often as a seminal figure in early American medicine. For a number of years, the New England Surgical Society has presented to one of its members a Distinguished Service Award named to honor Nathan Smith. This article also provides insights into Smith's actual surgical practice. Here, readers can see how much surgery has changed while being reminded once again of what some important characteristics of outstanding surgeons are.