From the Historical Examples of Drs. Osler, Cushing, and Van Wagenen: Lessons on the Importance of Mentorship in Contemporary Neurosurgery

Anthony S. Larson, Stephen J. Haines, Webster H. Pilcher, Taylor E. Piva, Andrew W. Grande

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although the historical relationships between William Osler, Harvey Williams Cushing, and William Perine Van Wagenen are well known in the neurosurgical world, the nature of the mentor-mentee relationships that existed between these historical giants is not widely appreciated. In this historical vignette, we describe and exemplify such relationships, while at the same time extract important and applicable principles from them. We reviewed relevant primary and secondary sources that documented the interactions between Cushing, Osler, and Van Wagenen. In founding the field of neurological surgery, the brilliant yet volatile Dr. Harvey Cushing received guidance from his mentor, Dr. William Osler. Through our review, it is undeniable that Dr. Osler's personal and professional guidance was vital to young Dr. Cushing's success as the founder of modern neurosurgery. Likewise, Cushing's tutelage of Van Wagenen enabled Van Wagenen to become a leader of a second generation of neurosurgeons, thereby perpetuating the existence of Cushing's high neurosurgical standards. These historical mentor-mentee relationships were built on 4 primary components: accurate recognition of talent, guidance, arrangement of opportunity, and sustenance of mentorship—actions that are commonly implicated in effective mentorship in contemporary studies. Proper mentorship remains indispensable for the success of neurosurgical trainees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-257
Number of pages7
JournalWorld neurosurgery
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Chris Phillips of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons for her guidance in helping us obtain historical documentation. Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare that the article content was composed in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Harvey Cushing
  • History
  • Mentorship
  • Neurosurgery
  • William Osler
  • William Van Wagenen

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Journal Article
  • Review


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