Intended for healthcare professionals


How Islam changed medicine: Ibn Sina (Avicenna) saw medicine and surgery as one

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 12 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:120
  1. John Urquhart, professor of biopharmaceutical sciences, University of California at San Francisco (urquhart{at}
  1. Palo Alto, CA 94301 USA

    Editor—In the second Al Hammadi lecture at the St Andrew's Day symposium on therapeutics at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 2002, I contrasted Ibn Sina's Canon of Medicine, written about 1012, with Osler's Principles and Practice of Medicine (1892).13

    Both books have about the same bulk. I asked: “If the year were 1900 and you were marooned and in need of a guide for practical medicine, which book would you want by your side?” My choice was Ibn Sina. A leading reason is that Ibn Sina gives an integrated view of surgery and medicine, whereas Osler largely shuns intervention. Ibn Sina, for example, tells how to judge the margin of healthy tissue to take with an amputation, a basic topic uncovered by Osler. The gap between medicine and surgery is now closing, with the advent of interventional cardiology, gastroenterology, radiology, etc. Ibn Sina correctly saw medicine and surgery as one.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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