The Art of a Physician Entrepreneur

During a recent visit to Philadelphia, I went to the Barnes Foundation. Named after Dr. Albert C. Barnes, it houses one of the most valuable art collections in the world.

During a recent visit to Philadelphia, I went to the Barnes Foundation. Named after Dr. Albert C. Barnes, it houses one of the most valuable art collections in the world.

A.C. Barnes was a graduate of Central High School (my alma mater) and received his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania (where I did my surgical and ENT training). In 1899, with a German chemist named Hermann Hille, Barnes developed a mild silver nitrate antiseptic solution. He formed a company and marketed the drug as Argyrol, a treatment for gonorrhea and a preventative of gonorrheal blindness in newborn infants. The drug was an immediate financial success. Barnes proved adept at business. To avoid having Argyrol being stolen by competitors, he convinced Hille not to patent it. He marketed directly to physicians, and took his product abroad. He bought out Hille, and in 1907, Barnes had become a millionaire at the age of 35. In July 1929, he sold his business for a reported sum of $6 million. The move was well timed, as he sold before the 1929 stock market crash and the discovery of antibiotics, which replaced Argyrol in use.

Thanks to a Central classmate, artist William Glackens, Barnes went on to amass his art collection and built a museum attached to his house in Merion, PA to display it. After much controversy and court battles, it was moved to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia.

History is filled with physician entrepreneurs and physician writers, artists and performers who made their mark both within and outside of clinical medicine. It began in colonial times.

One of the joys of medical training is the opportunity it provides to those who hear the knock on the door. Whether it is the art of medical practice, the art of entrepreneurship, or the art hanging on the wall, every doctor has the opportunity to create value and meaning in his own way.