Famous People You Didn't Know Were Doctors Part I

Medicine is sometimes referred to as "the highest calling." However, these famous people are all remembered for much more than their medical degrees.

“The starting point of all achievement is desire.”

—Napoleon Hill

There’s no question that earning a medical degree takes some smarts. My physician-dad would tell me that the profession was often referred to as “the highest calling.” So with that, one would think just being doctor was enough. Not always.

The following 10 famous people, who all earned medical degrees, are remembered for so much more.

Alister MacKenzie (1870-1934)

It’s well known that most doctors love to play golf, but this connection is really something special. Trained as a surgeon, MacKenzie was also a world-renowned golf course architect. He signature course is the Augusta National Golf Club, where the celebrated Matsters Tournament is held every year. His work includes over 50 golf courses on four continents. He received his medical training at Cambridge University in England. His father was also a doctor.

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

This Russian-born doctor is considered perhaps the finest writer of short stories in all literature. The son of a grocer, he earned his medical degree from I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University in 1884. Among his most famous works are The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters, The Lady with the Dog, and The Seagull.

Earning money mostly as a writer while always a practicing doctor, Checkov said of his life: “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.”

Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928-1967)

A Marxist revolutionary with a medical degree … now that’s malpractice. A product and student of Latin American hunger, poverty, and disease, Guevara was a major player in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, serving as Fidel Castro’s second in command.

Born in Argentina, Guevara received his medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires in 1953. He was captured and executed during guerilla warfare in Bolivia. A voracious reader and radical writer, Guevara’s image remains a counterculture symbol even today.

Samuel Prescott (1751-1777)

Most people remember Paul Revere’s “midnight ride” during the American Revolution, but another Massachusetts Patriot played a big role that night on April 18, 1775—and it was a doctor.

Early in the war, it was Revere, Prescott, and William Dawes who rode horses to warn Concord citizens that the “British were coming.” Indeed, only Prescott made it to Concord. His death remains sketchy, but he may have died as a POW while serving as a Continental Army surgeon. The doctor’s famous ride continues to be re-enacted to this day.

James Naismith (1861-1939)

The inventor of basketball was a doctor. Pretty amazing. Born in Canada, Naismith invented the sport of basketball in 1891 and, if that wasn’t enough, 7 years later he earned a medical degree from the University of Colorado Medical School.

Naismith developed the game and its rules (in 2 weeks time) while serving as a gym teacher in Springfield, MA. He was also a physical education professor at the University of Kansas for 20 years. The NBA’s Hall of Fame is named in his honor.

Part 2 next week: William Thornton, Ronan Tynan, Michael Crichton, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Roger Bannister