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Ambroise Paré

[ahm braz' pa rA'] pioneer surgeon

Ambroise Pare

Ambroise Paré was born at Bourg-Hersent, near Laval, France, in 1509. He was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon at 13, became barber-surgeon at the Paris Hotel Dieu at age 19, and served two stints as a surgeon in the French Army between 1536 and 1544. In 1545 he began the study of anatomy at Paris, under Sylvius. Upon completion of his studies he was appointed field surgeon by Marshal Rohan. In 1552 he became surgeon to King Henry II. He died in 1590.

The Treatment of Gunshot Wounds

In the 16th century, gunshot wounds were classified as contused, burned, and poisoned, and were routinely treated by being cauterized with either a red-hot iron or hot oil. During the Battle of Turin in 1537, Paré ran out of cauterizing oil and began applying ointment to the wounds and then bandaging them. Later he observed that the healing process proceeded much more favorably under this treatment.

Advances in Prosthetics

Even with what was then state-of-the-art treatment, many wounds to a soldier's arms or legs could only be treated by amputation of the injured limb. Paré invented upper and lower extremity prostheses that show knowledge of basic prosthetic function. "Le Petit Lorrain," for example, was a hand operated by springs and catches for a French Army Captain, which he then used in battle. Paré also invented an above-knee prosthesis which was a kneeling peg leg and foot prosthesis. It had a fixed equinas position, adjustable harness, knee lock control, and other engineering features used in today's prostheses.

Other Surgical Advances

Vascular ligation, which had not been practiced since the Alexandrian Era, was revived by Paré.

Paré developed a method for greatly reducing the scars left by cuts. As shown in this 1594 woodcut, he stuck adhesive material on each side of the wound and pulled the flesh together with stitches through the cloth, rather than through the skin.
Pare's scarless stitches

In cases of a strangulated hernia of the groin, Paré performed the operation now known as a herniotomy. Most of his contemporaries were reluctant to perform this surgery, leaving their patients to die in miserable pain.


His treatise on the Treatment of Gunshot Wounds became so popular that it was translated from French into Dutch, Italian, English, German, Spanish, and Japanese. The Method of Treating Wounds Made by Arquebuses was also an immediate success.

Family Life

At the age of 64, Ambroise Paré married Jacqueline Rousselet, with whom he had 6 children.

Other Information

During his career Paré was the surgeon to four kings -- Henri II, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henri III -- as well as to Queen Mother Catherine de Medici.

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This page was last updated on 02/05/2019.