William Halsted (1852–1922)
Father of Surgical Subspecialities
A surgical innovator, Halsted revolutionized surgery by insisting on skill and technique rather than brute strength. Using an experimental approach, he developed new operations for intestinal and stomach surgery, gallstone removal, hernia repair and disorders of the thyroid gland. Thanks largely to Halsted, surgeons worldwide began wearing gloves during operations. That shift came about after one of his nurses Caroline Hampton, whom he later married, complained that the mercuric chloride she was supposed to wash with gave her a rash. He asked the Goodyear Rubber Company to try to make two pairs of thin rubber gloves to protect her hands. His surgical assistants were quick converts and began to wear them during operations, swearing that the gloves made them more dexterous. The idea that the gloves also might help in germ control actually didn't occur to any of them for years, which Halsted remarked on, somewhat bemused, long after. "Operating in gloves was an evolution rather than an inspiration or happy thought," Halsted said, "And it is remarkable that during the four or five years when as operator I wore them only occasionally, we could have been so blind as not to have perceived the necessity for wearing them invariably at the operating table."
Submitted by Stephen Tsang, College of Physicians and Surgeons 1998 and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 1996, who is solely responsible for the content.