Feature Christmas 2013: Medical Histories

From the Ottomans to the present day: 150 years of Scottish medical charity in the Holy Land

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6994 (Published 12 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6994
  1. Peter D Turnpenny, consultant clinical geneticist and honorary associate professor12
  1. 1Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Exeter EX1 2ED, UK
  2. 2Exeter University Medical School, Exeter, UK
  1. Correspondence to: P D Turnpenny peter.turnpenny{at}nhs.net

Peter Turnpenny charts the extraordinary 150 year history of The Nazareth Hospital, which treats Jews and Arabs alike

During 2012 a year of celebrations took place in the Arab city of Nazareth, Israel, marking its main hospital’s 150 years of medical service to the town and surrounding Galilee.

The story begins with the Crimean war. A young English speaking Armenian, Pacradooni Kaloost Vartan (fig 1), educated by American Presbyterian missionaries at Bebek Seminary near Constantinople (now Istanbul), was recruited as a translator for the British army (fig 2). He may have met Florence Nightingale but certainly witnessed the horrors of war and ravages of infectious disease. Inspired to study medicine, he received financial support from an unknown Scottish woman in Constantinople. He was eventually accepted into the Edinburgh Medical School, under the auspices of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS)—at that time less than 20 years old and starting to train and send medical missionaries around the world.

After graduation, he received a grant from the Syrian Asylum Committee and travelled to Beirut, where civil war raged. Finding it difficult to be useful there, he journeyed to Nazareth—equidistant between Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem—where he opened a clinic with four beds in the town’s souk and began his life’s work, which continued until his death in 1908. In 1866 he returned to Scotland, where the EMMS agreed to sponsor him, and he set out again for Nazareth with his new bride, Mary Anne Stewart.

Fig 1 Pacradooni Kaloost Vartan (1835-1908), son of a carpet maker from Constantinople, who went on to found a hospital and dispensary in Nazareth, which continues today as The Nazareth Hospital.

Fig 2 Vartan’s Crimean war medal depicting Queen Victoria and service at Sebastopol, Inkermann, Balaklava, and Alma

Dr Vartan’s work met opposition. The Ottoman …

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