Tinsley R. Harrison


Physician Tinsley R. Harrison, anative of Talladega, is Tinsley R. HarrisonAlabamian Tinsley R. Harrison (1900-1978) was one of the most influential physicians of the twentieth century. His worldwide fame rested primarily on his book Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, published in 1950 and reprinted 16 times and translated into 14 different languages. It remains the single-most-used and best-selling internal medicine text in the world. Harrison was the first chair of medicine and second dean at the Medical College of Alabama, now part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Harrison was born in Talladega in on March 18, 1900. His father, Groce Harrison, was a sixth-generation physician. Harrison moved the family from Talladega to Birmingham in 1906, where Tinsley did extremely well and was advanced three grades, graduating from high school at age 15. He then spent a year at the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Perry County, and three years at the University of Michigan, where he obtained bachelor's degree in 1919. Harrison then completed medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and his internship and first-year residency in Boston at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital). After returning to Hopkins for additional study, Harrison was recruited as a member of the staff at the new Vanderbilt Hospital and Medical School in Nashville in 1925. He and his new wife, Elizabeth Woodward of Massachusetts, then spent 16 years in Nashville, with a year overseas to study and do research in Austria, England, and Germany. The couple would have five children.

At Vanderbilt, Harrison worked tirelessly in developing patient care techniques while also teaching both clinical medicine and basic sciences. Harrison engaged in imaginative research, publishing widely in prestigious journals, and won multiple scholarly honors. In 1935, Harrison published Failure of the Circulation, which soon became   a standard text. Tinsley Harrison poses with University of Alabama president Joseph Volker, Frank Rose, and Tinsley HarrisonLater, Harrison accepted an invitation from Wake Forest University's Bowman Gray School of Medicine in North Carolina to become the founding chair of medicine and remained nearly three years. He left in 1944 to serve as dean of medicine and chair of medicine at his third new school, the Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas, which he assumed would eventually have more resources than cash-starved Bowman Gray.

Harrison recruited many notable faculty members to Southwestern and remained in Dallas until 1950, when he returned to Alabama to become the second dean of the Medical College of Alabama at UAB and chair of its department of medicine. It became his fourth new medical school, and his efforts led to its later prominence. He retired in 1970 to become a Distinguished Physician of the U.S. Veterans Administration, where he remained until his death on August 4, 1978.

Additional Resources 

Pittman, James A., Jr. "Tinsley R Harrison, M.D. Teacher and Paragon of Internal Medicine." MASA Review 1 (Spring/Summer 1997): 14-55.

———. "Tinsley Randolph Harrison." American National Biography  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Volume 10: 221-22.

James Pittman
University of Alabama at Birmingham


Published November 18, 2008
Last updated December 10, 2009