Following a stint in the Royal Navy, postgraduate training in Britain and private practice in Detroit, Mich, he was found in 1926 to have contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. After this personal crisis, he devoted himself to other tuberculosis victims and to thoracic surgery in Montréal at the Royal Victoria Hospital and later at the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur, Cartierville, Qué.
Between 1929 and 1936 he invented or redesigned 12 medical and surgical instruments and wrote 14 articles describing his innovations in thoracic technique. He became increasingly disillusioned with surgical treatment and concerned with the socioeconomic aspects of disease. He challenged his profession and proposed radical reforms of medical care and health services in Canada.
After a visit to the Soviet Union in 1935, Bethune joined the Communist Party. This commitment took him to the Spanish Civil War in 1936, where he organized a mobile blood transfusion service, the first of its kind, to operate on a 1000 km front. He returned to Canada in 1937 to raise money for the antifascist cause in Spain and soon turned his attention to the war being waged by communist forces against the Japanese invaders in China. "Spain and China," he wrote, "are part of the same battle."
Bethune left Canada for the last time in 1938 to join the 8th Route Army in the Shanxi-Hobei border region. There, he was a tireless and inventive surgeon, teacher and propagandist, and he adopted the cause and the people as his own. His accidental death from septicemia evoked Mao Zedong's essay "In Memory of Norman Bethune," which urged all communists to emulate his spirit of internationalism, his sense of responsibility and his devotion to others. One of 3 prescribed articles during the Cultural Revolution, the essay made Bethune's name almost synonymous with Canada in China.
Author HILARY RUSSELL
T. Allan and S. Gordon, The Scalpel and the Sword: The Story of Dr. Norman Bethune (1971); W. MacLeod et al, Bethune: The Montreal Years (1978);
Links to Other Sites
A biography of Dr. Norman Bethune from the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
Norman Bethune 1890-1939
A brief biography of Dr. Norman Bethune. From Library and Archives Canada.
Norman Bethune Tapestry
This site focuses on the intriguing history of the colourful Norman Bethune tapestry at UBC’s Woodward Biomedical Library.
Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site
The Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site offers fascinating details about the extraordinary life and achievements of this international renowned Canadian medical doctor. From Parks Canada.
Dr. Norman Bethune
A brief profile of the heroic Canadian doctor, Norman Bethune. From the Norman Bethune College at York University.
Click on the brief profiles of "extraordinary Canadians" and the authors who wrote about them in this Penguin Group (Canada) series. Also includes bios of artists who created the cover art for each book.
View brief videos from a television series profiling some of Canada's most distinguished Canadians. Click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page to see additional videos.
Dr. Norman Bethune, assisted by Henning Sorensen
A photograph of Dr. Norman Bethune, assisted by Henning Sorensen, performing a transfusion during the Spanish Civil War. From Library and Archives Canada.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...