Frederick H. Verhoeff, MD

  • Presented: 
    2011
  • Recognition: 
    ASCRS Ophthalmology Hall of Fame

1874–1968

Frederick H. Verhoeff, MD, was one of the most influential American ophthalmologists of the 20th century. He had a long career as a professor of ophthalmic research at Harvard University and the chief of ophthalmic research at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. Verhoeff's contributions to ophthalmology range from pathology and physiology to surgical techniques. Over a 67-year period, Verhoeff published hundreds of journal articles, the last, when he was 92, on his perceptions of his own retinal venous occlusion.

Verhoeff told a colleague that it was the gift of a camera on his 12th birthday that led him into ophthalmology. He became fascinated with lenses and that interest in optics led to a determination to become an ophthalmologist. Verhoeff was the first graduate of the Johns Hopkins Medical School to enter the field of ophthalmology.

Following medical school, Verhoeff took the job of pathologist at the Massachusetts Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary. His functions at the infirmary bore little semblance to what is expected of a comparable pathologist today. Not only did Verhoeff do the autopsies (because deaths from ear and sinus infections were then frequent) and make the definitive diagnosis, but he had to do all the sectioning, staining, mounting of slides, and preparation of solutions himself. He was a bacteriologist as well as a pathologist.

After 2 years at the infirmary, Verhoeff went abroad for 8 months of further study with several great men in European ophthalmology: Ernst Fuchs in Vienna, Otto Haab in Zurich, and Sir J. Herbert Parsons in London. Returning to Boston, Verhoeff followed in their footsteps but always with a distinctly Verhoeff approach and with exploration of entirely new pathways. Many publications and awards followed.

Verhoeff was the principal ophthalmic consultant in ophthalmic pathology during the first two decades of the Registry of Ophthalmic Pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which since 1922 has been a leading world center for the study of ocular pathology.