Born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, in 1814, James Paget was one of the outstanding surgeons of his time, remembered for his description of osteitis deformans (Paget’s disease of bone) and of Paget’s disease of the breast. He has been regarded as the surgical equivalent of William Osler in medical education and of Rudolph Virchow in scientific pathology.
His scientific talents first came to the fore at the age of sixteen, when apprenticed to an apothecary he used his spare time to study botany and make an extensive collection of plant specimens. As medical student at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (1834) he used a microscope to discover the pathogen for trichinosis (Trichinella spiralis), a disease usually acquired by eating infected pork.
Advancement in London came slowly, and early years in practice would be difficult financially. After 1836 he became curator of the Bartholomew’s Hospital museum, demonstrator in anatomy, lecturer in anatomy and physiology, assistant surgeon to the hospital ( 1844), professor at the Royal College of Surgeon, and in 1851 fellow of the Royal Society. In 1853 he established a surgical practice that in time became one of the largest and most successful ones in London. He became surgeon extraordinary to Queen Victoria and to the Prince of Wales, and in 1861 was appointed full surgeon at Bartholomew’s Hospital.
Until his death in 1899 he received numerous appointments, awards, honorific degrees, and presidencies of professional and learned societies. He was an excellent surgeon and medical scientist, a pioneer in the use of the microscope in pathology, especially in the diagnosis of tumors. His many clinical advances included his advocacy to remove the tumor itself rather than proceed to amputation of the entire limb. He published extensively in his field, notably his Lectures on Surgical Pathology, and like Sir William Osler took a great interest in the education of future doctors, emphasizing the importance of clinical work but also of developing medicine through scientific work. It was his belief that rather than being incompatible, medicine and science should be kept together and advance hand-in-hand, and that medical professionals should devote themselves to both.
- Buchanan W. W. Sir James Paget (1814 – 89), Proc.R.Coll Phys Edin, 1966:26:91
- Pearce, JMS. Sir James Paget: a biographical note. QJMed 1997;90:235
GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief