William Harvey: Biography, Discoveries & Accomplishments

Instructor: Tara Schickel

Tara has taught staff nursing courses and has a master's degree in public health.

This lesson will describe the life and accomplishments of Dr. William Harvey. We will discuss his discovery of the circulatory system, as well as the impact his discovery has had on the medical community.

A Look into Early Medicine

Fourteen-year-old James wasn't excited as he trudged inside the museum with his grandfather. His grandfather had been planning a trip to the medical history museum so that James could learn more about the evolution of medicine, and how it has developed and grown over time. James has been interested in becoming a physician since he was in kindergarten, but he saw no reason why he needed to study the past to prepare for the future.

His grandfather explained to him how much he will someday appreciate the discoveries and work that his medical forefathers put into the field. Their groundwork and accomplishments over the years led to where we are in medicine today. James was skeptical, but decided he should find out for himself what was so great about the early pioneers of medicine.

William Harvey

The first museum exhibit James and his grandfather stopped to see was about an English physician, William Harvey. James read that William Harvey was born in 1578 and lived until 1657. He became a physician in 1602 when he graduated from the University of Padua. He soon married Elizabeth Browne and began practice at the St. Bartholomew's Hospital in England.

A New Way of Thinking

When Harvey was studying at the University of Padua, his professor had recognized that blood veins had small valves in them, but didn't know the reason. This sparked the curiosity of Harvey, and he began a life-long journey to try to discover more about the circulatory system, which includes the heart, veins, arteries, and how everything worked together. He made many of his discoveries by dissecting animals and studying their blood vessels and hearts. His investigations led him to learn how blood is pumped throughout the body. Harvey discovered that the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body and it does so in a circular pattern, via the veins and arteries. His discovery allowed him to be the first to learn the purpose of the heartbeat.

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