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    A tribute to the greats: Pioneers defined, shaped field of dermatology


    Robert Willan/Public Domain-Wikimedia Commons
    Throughout history, many physicians and researchers have deservedly earned their place as pioneers and have helped to define and shape the field of dermatology.

    Ferdinand von Hebra/Public Domain-Wikipedia
    To be sure, there are too many to profile in a magazine article. By reading just some of the career highlights of these 11 dermatologists, however, we hope you gain a better understanding of how some individuals single-handedly paved the way for modern dermatology practices.

    Erasmus Wilson/Public Domain Wikimedia Commons
    Joseph Von Plenck (1732-1807): A Viennese military surgeon, Joseph Von Plenck was the forerunner of modern European dermatology. He was responsible for initially classifying and codifying skin diseases, and he wrote treatises on many medical subjects, including obstetrics, dentistry, pharmaceutical chemistry and legal medicine.

    It was his Doctrina de Morbis Cutaneis that earned him a spot in our list of influential dermatologists in early history. The 128-page monograph rejected the earlier classification of skin diseases based on the area of body involved, and instead grouped eruptions made up of lesions similar in appearance.

    Considered the "protodermatologist of the 18th century," Dr. Von Plenck developed a classification scheme that served as a model on which Robert Willan would base his important work, On Cutaneous Diseases, 20 years later.

    Robert Willan (1757-1812): An Englishman and Quaker, Robert Willan became interested in skin diseases while working in general medicine at the Public Dispensary on Carey Street in London.

    He scrutinized the many lesions he saw, recording their variations and configurations. His work On Cutaneous Diseases, Part 1 is an atlas with beautifully illustrated pictures and descriptions.

    He is specifically responsible for developing the descriptions of papules and macules. Dr. Willan died of heart disease before he could finish Part 2 of On Cutaneous Diseases.

    Ferdinand von Hebra (1816 to 1880): Ferdinand von Hebra was the first to be appointed a professor of skin diseases, to head a university department and to become the founder of a school that was the leading center in Europe in the second half of the 19th century.

    Among his pupils were luminaries in the field, including Heinrich Auspitz, Isidor Neumann, Filipp Josef Pick, Moriz Kaposi and Eduard Lang.

    One of his physician-painters, Carl Heitzmann, was among the founders of the American Dermatological Association in September 1876 at Niagara Falls, N.Y.

    Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884): Erasmus Wilson, the most famous dermatologist in the middle decades of the 19th century, according to the Historical Atlas of Dermatology and Dermatologists, founded and edited the Journal of Cutaneous Medicine, the first English-language journal devoted to dermatology.

    His textbook On Diseases of the Skin was among the most famous English textbooks on the topic, and Dr. Wilson's atlas, Portraits of Diseases of the Skin, is known for its striking color plates.

    Dr. Wilson created a book for the general public about diseases of the skin, Practical Treatise on Health Skin, which recommends that people visit a dermatologist for skin problems.

    Some of his concepts — such as denying the role of fungi in ringworm — did not bear the test of time.

    Jonathan Hutchinson (1828 to 1913): England's Jonathan Hutchinson was known for his genius and diverse interests. He excelled in many medical specialties, serving as president of societies in medicine, pathology and ophthalmology.


    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is president of Words Come Alive, based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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