Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

John Allan Wyeth

Avi Ohry
Tel Aviv, Israel

John Allan Wyeth. Wellcome collection via Wikimedia.

The 1952 book The Scalpel, the Sword by Ted Allen and Sydney Gordon is the story of Dr. Norman Bethune (1890–1939), a Canadian chest surgeon who made important contributions in the fight against pulmonary tuberculosis, as well as surgical contributions to China during the war with Japan. However, there is a book with a similar title that preceded Allen and Gordon’s book. With Sabre and Scalpel was written by Dr. John Allan Wyeth (1845–1922), a soldier and prisoner of war during the United States Civil War, and a surgeon who established the States’ first postgraduate school of medicine.

Wyeth was born in Marshall County, Alabama and was incarcerated in a Union prison camp from 1863 to 1865. He contracted dysentery, malaria, and typhoid during this time, but in spite of these ailments, he began his medical studies in 1867 at the University of Louisville. In 1869, he moved to New York City to finish his studies at Bellevue Hospital, followed by studies in France, Austria, and Germany. He began work at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City in 1880. In 1882, he organized The Polyclinic Hospital and the first postgraduate medical school in the US. He practiced surgery and orthopedics,1-2 published a textbook of surgery, and developed many surgical procedures. In 1902, he served as the president of the American Medical Association and, in 1906 and 1908, as the president of the New York Academy of Medicine. In addition to professional literature, he also published books on Confederate generals and other topics.5


  1. Anon. “Versatile John Allan Wyeth.” Tex Med J (Austin). 1911;26(12):463-8. 
  2. Shell, DH 3rd and Sparkman RS. “John Allan Wyeth, MD. Surgeon, soldier, author and founder of postgraduate medical education in America.” Am J Surg 1980;140(3):447-56.
  3. Long, JW. “An Appreciation: John Allan Wyeth, M.D., LL.D., the Surgeon, the Builder, the Teacher.” Tex Med J (Austin). 1913;29(2):47-8.
  4. Hall, DP. “Our surgical heritage, USA, John Allan Wyeth.” Am J Surg. 1964;107:920-1.
  5. Davis, R. “John Allan Wyeth.” Encyclopedia of Alabama, September 5, 2013. Last updated March 27, 2023. https://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/john-allan-wyeth/.

AVI OHRY, MD, is married with two daughters. He is Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the former director of Rehabilitation Medicine at Reuth Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv, and a member of The Lancet‘s Commission on Medicine & the Holocaust. He conducts award-winning research in neurological rehabilitation, bioethics, medical humanities and history, and on long-term effects of disability and captivity. He plays the drums with three jazz bands.

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