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Profile of the Day: René Laennec

On this day in 1781, French physician René Laennec, inventor of the stethoscope, was born in Quimper, France.

Image: René Laennec / Wikimedia Commons

Considered one of the greatest physicians in history, Laennec made many significant contributions to the world of medicine. In 1816, he invented the stethoscope and pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions.

The inspiration for the groundbreaking device came from Laennec’s observation of school children who played with long hallow sticks to amplify sounds. Different from today’s stethoscope, Laennec’s early instruments were hollow wooden cylinders that could be pressed against a person’s chest. He quickly found this method was far superior to the normally used method of placing the ear over the chest.

At his death, he bequeath his own stethoscope, which he called “the cylinder,” to his nephew, referring to it as “the greatest legacy of my life.”

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