Joseph Lister (1827-1912) was an English surgeon. His primary accomplishment is his recognition that surgeons contributed to the death of those they operated on if they did not take measures to sterilize their hands and the instruments they employed in surgery. He introduced carbolic acid (phenol) to sterilize surgical instruments and clean wounds.
Essentially, Lister discovered antiseptic means of treating wounds. Lister contributed to the germ theory of diseases and helped prevent death by spreading diseases.
Preventing germs from getting into wounds prevents infection and death. Sterile surgery, which Lister introduced, has done more for public health than any thing else one can think of.
Today the name Lister is synonymous with efforts to kill germs. Listerine, a mouth wash to kill bacterial and other germs in the mouth, is named after Lister.
Lister contributed to other areas of surgery. For example, he developed methods for repairing kneecaps with metal wire; he also improved the techniques for mastectomy.
Later in life, Lister, especially after the death of his wife, became depressed and withdrew from work and lived in his country home in Kent; he died there.
Lister’s contribution to medicine and public health is his efforts to get medical personal to sterilize their environment so as to prevent spreading diseases from one patient to another and from medical staff to patients and themselves.
Joseph Lister. The Collected Papers of Joseph Lister, in two volumes. (1909)