Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Good Doctor: Tinsley R. Harrison, MMI 1916

Dr. Tinsley Randolph Harrison (1900-1978), MMI 1916, is described by the Encyclopedia of Alabama as “one of the most influential physicians of the twentieth century.” His textbook, Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (1950), or simply, Harrisons, is the “single-most-used and best-selling internal medicine text in the world.” It has been reprinted 16 times and translated into 14 languages.

Dr. Tinsley R. Harrison as a young physician. (Credit:

Born in Talladega, Alabama, on March 18, 1900, Tinsley was the son of Groce Harrison, a sixth-generation physician. The family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1906, where a precocious Tinsley was able to advance three grades and graduate from high school at age 15. He attended Marion Military Institute for one year, 1915-1916 (ages 15 to 16), and then spent three years at the University of Michigan, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1919 at age 19. Harrison completed medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and his internship and first-year residency at what are now Harvard University hospitals in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Harrison as a rising star in the medical field. (Credit:

Following additional study at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Harrison joined the new Vanderbilt Hospital and Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1925. However, before assuming his duties as Chief Resident in Medicine at Vanderbilt, Harrison and his wife, Elizabeth (Woodward) of Massachusetts, enjoyed a year-long study and research tour of Europe (Austria, England, and Germany). The Harrisons stayed at Vanderbilt for some 16 years (1925-1941), and their family grew to include five children.

Both a practitioner, teacher, researcher, and author of numerous scholarly publications, Dr. Harrison published Failure of the Circulation in 1935, a work which has become a standard text.

The good doctor. (Credit:

From 1941 to 1944, Dr. Harrison served as the founding chair of medicine at the new Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University. He left in 1944 to serve as dean of medicine and chair of medicine at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas, his third new medical school. In 1950, Dr. Harrison moved to his fourth new medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, staying until his retirement in 1970. His efforts at UAB led to the medical school’s national and international prominence.

Dr. Harrison teaching his students in 1964. (Credit: UAB Archives, University of Alabama at Birmingham)

Dr. Harrison published his seminal textbook, Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine in 1950. Harrisons remains a standard in the field of internal medicine.

Upon his retirement at UAB, Dr. Tinsley R. Harrison was appointed Distinguished Physician of the U. S. Veterans Administration, serving until his death on August 4, 1978, in Birmingham, Alabama, following a prolonged illness. He died in his own bed surrounded by his family.

Sculpture of Dr. Tinsley Randolph Harrison at UAB in Birmingham, Alabama. Cordray Parker was the sculptor. (Credit: Robin McDonald)