Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as a writer. However
before he was an author he had another professionhe 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
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
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.
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
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,
rather unusual methods of getting personal information from his
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
When Conan Doyle became a writer he borrowed
these techniques of Dr. Bell and bestowed them upon Sherlock Holmes.