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Honorary doctorate for Hirschowitz

- By Wits University

A pioneer who led the way in the understanding and treatment of diseases relating to the digestive system, gastroenterology, has posthumously been awarded an honorary doctorate by Wits University.

Wits has bestowed a Doctor of Science in Medicine upon Basil Isaac Hirschowitz in recognition of his enormous contribution to medicine. Hirschowitz played a major role in the development of the first practical, flexible, fiberoptic endoscopic system based on glass-clad fibres, which could illuminate the inside of the stomach making it possible for examination.

His citation, which was read during the graduation ceremony of the Faculty of Health Sciences, states that the Wits alumnus develoed this tool along with colleagues from the Department of Physics in the University of Michigan. Hirschowitz first tested this device on himself, later describing this episode as follows: “I looked at this rather thick, forbidding but flexible rod, took the instrument and my courage in both hands, and swallowed it over the protest of my unanaesthetised pharynx and my vomiting center”.

This invention opened the way for the widespread use of endoscopy in a vast range of medical applications. To read his citation and the early reaction of his peers, click .

Although his brave venture was first met with cynicism, he has since received numerous awards and the Hirschowitz Endoscopic Centre of Excellence was named in his honour.

Dr Sidney Hirschowitz collected the honorary doctorate on behalf of his cousin who passed away in January 2013 at the age of 88.

A video tribute to Hirschowitz was screened during the graduation featuring former colleague Dr Mel Wilcox, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Division of Gastroenterology/Hepatology, University of Alabama, Birmingham. To view this, click here.

The graduands were also addressed by Professor Dan Ncayiyana who took a moment to acknowledge the late former president Nelson Mandela, whose memorial service was held on the same day as the graduation ceremony. Ncayiyana is emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town, and was editor of the South African Medical Journal for 20 years.

In his speech Ncayiyana addressed the shortage of health professionals in South Africa and described it as “largely self-inflicted”. He tackled the responsibilities of the recently qualified doctors, the traditional models of health professional training and constrictive curricula. To read his speech, click.