Happy National Doctors’ Day
March 30 is celebrated as National Doctor’s Day in the United States to commemorate Dr. Crawford W. Long’s use of ether for the first time on this date in 1842.
Crawford Williamson Long was born on November 1, 1815, in Danielsville, Georgia. The son of a senator, merchant, and planter, Long was named after Georgia statesman William H. Crawford.
By the time he was 14, Long graduated from a local academy and applied to the University of Georgia in Athens. After receiving his A.M. degree in 1835, Long went on to study at Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky. While there, he studied under surgeon Benjamin Dudley. In this capacity, Long witnessed many surgeries and was concerned about the effects of operating without anesthesia. After just a year, Long transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he got to work first-hand with modern medical technology before graduating with his M.D. in 1839.
Long then did an 18-month internship in New York City before returning to Georgia. Once there, he opened a medical practice in Jefferson. On March 30, 1842, Long was preparing to remove a tumor from the neck of his patient, James M. Venable. He had been bothered by the physical and psychological effects of surgery without anesthesia and chose to give his patient ether. He did so by putting some ether on a towel and having him inhale it. Using the ether seemed to help, so Long continued to perform his surgeries in this way over the next few years.
In spite of his success, Long didn’t immediately publish his findings, though he shared his experiment with others. Soon other doctors were using ether, and some claimed they had been the first. Long then began collecting patient accounts and petitioned Congress to give him credit as the first to use ether, though that wouldn’t happen during his lifetime.
In the meantime, Long married then fathered 12 children. He and his brother opened a private practice and pharmacy. He joined a militia unit during the Civil War but wasn’t called upon to fight, though he did perform surgeries for soldiers from both sides of the conflict. Long died on June 16, 1878, shortly after delivering a baby.
Doctors’ Day was first celebrated on this day in 1933 in Winder Georgia. On that day, people mailed cards to doctors and their wives. They also placed flowers on the graves of deceased doctors, including Dr. Long. Doctors’ Day spread in popularity throughout the South and eventually the country. It was officially made a national holiday in 1990.
Other countries also celebrate Doctors’ Day, but on different dates, to mark historic events in their own nations. You can read about those here.