Arguably the most famous ophthalmologist is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). He is the creative genius behind the popular fictional character Sherlock Holmes. From 1876 – 1881 Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland. While studying he also started writing short stories. In 1885 he completed another advanced Scottish medical degree. After qualifying to perform eye tests and prescribe glasses at the Portsmouth Eye Hospital Doyle attempted to studied ophthalmology in Vienna in 1891. This did not go well and within three months he had returned to London where he opened a small office.
However according to his biography he did not see any patients and his efforts as an ophthalmologist were a failure. While waiting for patients he began to write his now famous stories which would change his life forever.
Medical plots and characters with medical qualification feature in many of Doyle’s stories. Doctor Watson was one of over 35 physicians Doyle included in his works. Ophthalmology features in two of the Sherlock Holmes stories and several of his non-Sherlock Holmes books. Doyle volunteered his medical services at Bloemfontein during the Boer War and in 1902 was knighted for his efforts.
Dr Joseph Bell, one of Doyle’s lecturers at Edinburgh Medical School, was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Dr Bell emphasized the importance of close observation in making a medical diagnosis. To demonstrate this during lectures he would pick out a someone he did not know and, by studying the person carefully, Bell would work out his occupation and some of the things he had done that day. Accordingly Dr Bell was considered to be a pioneer in forensic science at a time when science was not yet widely used in criminal investigations.
Doyle wrote over 60 Sherlock Holmes mystery stories, plus poetry, works of fantasy, historical novels and science fiction. He also wrote a series of novels on another fictional character he created named Professor Challenger.
Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Foley. His family were wealthy and well respected but his father was a heavy drinker so Doyle as supported by other family members. His mother was a great reader and was responsible for developing Doyle’s imagination when he was a child with the great stories she read to him.
In 1885, Doyle married Louisa Hawkins. Unfortunately she contracted tuberculosis and died in 1906. They had two children. He then married Jean Elizabeth Leckie in 1907 and had another three children. He played football, cricket and golf. Arthur Conan Doyle died at the age of 71 in 1930 as a result of a heart attack.