The founder of neurosurgery as a separate discipline within medicine, Cushing was the youngest of ten children, and the son of a doctor. He studied medicine at both Yale and Harvard, interning at Massachusetts General and later Johns Hopkins. He was a firm believer in the application of hard science to medical problems, drawing especially on physics to better diagnose and treat patients.
Among other things, he pioneered the use of x-rays to detect tumours and used electro-cortical stimulation to investigate and better understand the workings of the brain. In the first few decades of the 20th century, he was the world’s leading teacher of neurosurgeons. But his most lasting effect on medicine may be the introduction of the earliest sphygmomanometer to America, which would rapidly become a great diagnostic tool. Ironically, while the proximate cause of Cushing’s own death at the age of 70 was a myocardial infarction, his autopsy revealed that he had a colloid cyst of the third ventricle in his brain.