Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as a writer.  However before he was an author he had another profession—he was a doctor. While some people go into medicine because they feel a “calling” this was not the case with Conan Doyle.  The decision was a practical one. In 1876 Conan Doyle’s father, Charles Doyle, entered a facility for treatment of his alcoholism.  This put the family in a financial bind.  The situation was so severe that Doyle’s mother, Mary Doyle,  began taking in lodgers as a way to help make ends meet.

Conan Doyle was 17 at the time.  This was his family’s situation as he tried to decide on a career.

Doctors were well regarded socially and made good incomes.  The family lived in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh was one of the most highly regarded medical schools of the time.  Conan Doyle could attend school and save money on room and board by living at home.

It seemed an obvious choice.  Arthur Conan Doyle was to become a doctor.

School Years

The east facade of the University of Edinburgh as built in 1827

The east facade of the University of Edinburgh as built in 1827

Conan Doyle attended he University of Edinburgh from 1876 until his graduation in 1881.  In those days a medical education consisted mostly of lectures.  There was very little “hands on” training.  Conan Doyle once said his medical education was, “one long weary grind at botany, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and a whole list of compulsory subjects, many of which have a very indirect bearing upon the art of curing.  The whole system of teaching, as I look back upon it, seems far too oblique and not nearly practical enough for the purpose in view.”

Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes

Joseph Bell - Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes

Joseph Bell – Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes

In an odd way the University of Edinburgh prepared Conan Doyle for his career as an author.  It was there that he met Dr. Joseph Bell.   Dr. Bell, the inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes,  had some rather unusual methods of getting personal information from his patients.

Dr. Bell observed the way a person moved.  The walk of a sailor varied vastly from that of a solider.  If he identified a person as a sailor he would look for  any tattoos that might assist him in knowing where their travels had taken them.   He trained himself to listen for small differences in his patient’s accents to help him identify where they were from.  Bell studied the hands of his patients because calluses or other marks could help him determine their occupation.

When Conan Doyle became a writer he borrowed these techniques of Dr. Bell and bestowed them upon Sherlock Holmes.

Learn More

Assortment of whaling harpoons, 1887

Dr. Conan Doyle - Ship's Surgeon

In early 1880 Claude Augustus Currie planned to have the adventure of a lifetime. He was scheduled to go on a whaling expedition as ship's surgeon. At the last minute he couldn't go. He asked a fellow student to take his place. That student was Arthur Conan Doyle.
Conan Doyle

Doctor Conan Doyle - the Mayumba and George Budd

In 1882 Conan Doyle was asked to join the medical practice of George Budd. Conan Doyle asked three people for advice in the matter. The vote was unanimous. Everyone he consulted advised Conan Doyle against the move. Conan Doyle did it anyway.

Interesting Link – Thesis by Dr. Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle kept on with his studies and submitted a thesis on Tabes Dorsalis and was awarded his doctorate in 1885.