When thinking about great storytellers in the neuroscientific community, there is no one that comes to mind quicker than Oliver Sacks. I truly cannot emphasize enough how important his contributions have been. As a neurologist and prolific author, Sacks provided narratively competent treatment to thousands of patients and brought his scientific and philosophical musings on the brain to millions of readers around the world.
Oliver was born in London, England in 1933. He was the youngest of 4 children born to Samuel Sacks and Elsie Landau, two prominent English doctors (Brown, 2005). At a very young age, Sacks’ interest in the sciences flourished. Between creating his own chemistry lab in his home to examining dissections his mother brought home from work, Sacks fell in love with empirical studies (Brown, 2005; Emsley, 2002).
Sacks would go on to complete his medical degree at Oxford University and was formally trained as a neurologist at UCLA and Albert Einstein University. Once trained, Sacks began practicing at Beth Abraham critical care hospital in New York City. It was this point in his career, where Sacks would treat the many patients discussed in his books (About Oliver Sacks, 2019).
Oliver Sacks would go on to teach at both the Columbia University University and New York University Schools of Medicine (About Oliver Sacks, 2019). In 2015, Sacks was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma of his eye and passed away later that year at the age of 82 (Cowles, 2015). Sacks’ memory continues to shine even though he is no longer with us.
With each patient he made a concerted effort to develop a deep and caring relationship. He did not simply view people as a grouping of symptoms, but rather a collection of stories, experiences, and relationships (Roth, 2015). Though he is gone, Sacks’ legacy lives on in our hearts. It is for this reason that Oliver Sacks is this week’s Notable Neuroscientist.