Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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PHYSICK, Philip Syng, surgeon, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 7 July, 1768; died there, 15 December, 1837. He was the son of Edmund Physick, keeper of the great seal in the colonial government, who, after the Revolutionary war, became agent of the Penn family, having charge of its estates. Philip was graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1785, then began the study of medicine under Dr. Adam Kuhn, and continued it in London under Dr. John Hunter, becoming, on 1 January, 1790, house surgeon of St. George's hospital. In 1791 he received his license from the Royal college of surgeons in London, and was invited by Dr. Hunter to assist him in his professional practice, but after a few months went to the University of Edinburgh, where he received his degree in 1792. He returned to the United States, and in September 1793, began to practise in Philadelphia. During the yellow-fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 he was appointed an attending physician at the yellow-fever hospital at Bush Hill. Throughout the epidemic he remained at his post, being himself attacked with fever, and also making dissections of those that died of the disease. The zeal, energy, and total disregard of personal danger that he showed were so recognized that in 1794 he was elected one of the surgeons at the Pennsylvania hospital, and also later a prescribing physician m the Philadelphia almshouse dispensary The yellow fever was again prevalent in 1797, and there were 1,100 fatal cases, including those of seven physicians Dr. Physick suffered a second attack at this time, and was bled to the amount of 176 ounces. During the epidemic of 1798 he was resident physician at the city hospital at Bush Hill. His post-mortem examinations were continued, and his researches tended to establish the gastric character of the fever and the origin of the black vomit, which he traced to the inflamed vessels of the stomach and intestines. His labors at this time received recognition from the managers of the hospital, who presented him with a service of plate. In 1800 he began a series of lectures on surgery in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1805 he was given the independent chair of surgery in the university, which he held for thirteen years. Dr. Physick was appointed surgeon extraordinary, and also one of the physicians of the almshouse infirmary in 1801, and he discharged the duties of the former office in connection with those at the Pennsylvania hospital until 1816. He was transferred in 1819 from the chair of surgery to that of anatomy, which he filled until 1831. This change, which was urged upon him by the faculty, was unfortunate, for as a surgeon he had few if any equals, while as an anatomist he was not specially distinguished. In 1821 he was elected consulting surgeon to the Institute for the blind, in 1822 president of the Phrenological society of Philadelphia, and in 1824 president of the Philadelphia medical society. Besides holding membership in many other scientific societies at home, in 1825 he was elected a member of the French academy of medicine, being, it is said, the first American to receive that honor, and in 1836 he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal medical and chirurgical society of London. Toward the end of his life he gradually relinquished the performing of capital operations, but he continued his medical practice until the end. One of the most brilliant successes of his life was accomplished in 1831, several years after he had declined to perform extensive surgical operations. It was that of enterotomy on Chief-Justice Marshall. The result was the removal of over 1,000 calculi, and a prompt and perfect cure. Dr. Physick introduced numerous valuable instruments and improved modifications of others, and he applied novel methods of treatment which have since become prevalent, notably that of washing out the stomach in cases of poisoning by means of water or a suitable solvent until the excess of the poison was removed. He was called the "father of American surgery."
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