The principles that drove Bernard Lown

Dr. Bernard Lown achieved so many things in his medical career, each one of which is incredibly impressive on its own. But an underappreciated facet of Dr. Lown’s legacy was his courage in sticking to his principles, even when doing so got him in trouble.

In a profile in The BMJ, journalist Jeanne Lenzer highlights some of the important times Dr. Lown took a stand and what this stubbornness cost him. Lenzer describes Dr. Lown’s fight to stop unnecessary heart surgeries (ironically, these surgeries were made possible by his own invention of the defibrillator) and his refusal to bow to the pressure of McCarthy-ism. In medical school, Dr. Lown also rebelled against the segregation of blood donations, which got him briefly expelled.

Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, spoke on Dr. Lown’s steadfast nature:

“It was easy to see him as an old man who can’t change his ways,” said Saini in the BMJ. “But that stubbornness allowed Lown to continue his care of patients using minimal interventions and technologies. Every year there would be a new wave of fellows and residents who came to train with this great cardiologist, expecting to learn the latest technologies, and he would invariably fight that tide and disappoint them with his minimalist approach. That he could maintain an oasis of humanistic care in the midst of what was going on in US healthcare is a huge, underappreciated achievement.”