Banknotes Celebrating the Medical Profession and Clinical Achievements

Getting accostomed to money in a different country is one of the highlights of travelling to new places. Whether it’s a euro or a dinar, a peso or dollar, mentally calculating a conversion rate and getting used to new banknotes is all part of the experience. How can a plastic card replace all that?

Some banknotes celebrate the medical profession around the world. National heros and those more globally celebrated appear on currency from a range of countries. So where are you likely to see someone medical or a medical achievement on a banknote?

Australian Twenty Dollar Notes featuring the portraits of May Reibey and John Flynn

Australia

John Flynn set up the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service which was effectively the world’s first air ambulance. He was a presbyterian minister who highlighted the needs of remote communities and got the service set up. He’s on the reverse of the Australian 20 dollar note.

Barbados

Charles Duncan O Neal was a physician and politician who fought for a minimum wage in sugar plantations. He also worked to get compulsory free education and got child labour abolished.

Cape Verde

Henrique Teixeira de Sousa graduated in medicine in Lisbon and worked to improve public health standards in Cape Verde. He was also an author and is celebrated on the 200 escudo note.

Portrait of Ernesto Che Guevara, historical leader of Cuba on three peso banknotes. Texture of old note of the official cuban currency.

Cuba

Che Guevara was a physician as well as a guerilla leader and revolutionary. Cuba commemorates him in a number of ways including an appearance on the 3 peso note.

Japan

Banknotes in Japan commemorate two physicians. Hideyo Noguchi was the bacteriologist who disovered the agent of syphyllis as a causative factor in partial paralysis. His career in research is interesting, in that not all of his claims were able to be reproduced in research and were considered unethical. The developments in syphyllis are, however, one of his greatest achievements. He died of yellow fever. Kitasato ShibasaburĊ is another Japanese bacteriologist and physician who co-discovered the infectious agent of bubonic plague with Alexandre Yersin. He will be commemorated on the 1000 yen notes being printed in 2024.

Marie Curie portrait Poland 20 Zlotych banknote close up macro. Famous scientist (chemistry and physics), pioneer in research of radioactivity, Nobel Prize winner.

Poland

Marie Curie’s name is known all over the world as the person who discovered radium and polonium. She is renowned for her research into radioactivity which had such an impact on modern medicine. Marie Curie has been depicted in several currencies across the world. In Poland it was on the 20,000 zloty note before the introduction of the Euro.

Scotland

Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin, is commemorated on Scottish currency from the Clyesdale Bank. The other doctor celebrated by Clydesdale Bank is Elsie Inglis who was a Scottish surgeon and the first woman to hold the Serbian Order of the White Eagle for her work in the Balkans in World War One.

Singapore

Singapore is one of the few countries to celebrate the work of a nurse. Teresa Hsu Chih was a charity worker and retired nurse who campaigned for the poor and disadvantaged in society. She founded the Home for the Aged Sick and Heart to Heart Service in Singapore and was known for her relentless work despite being an older person herself. Teresa Hsu Chih is commemorated on the $20 dollar note.

Avicenna or Ibn Sina on Tajikistan 20 somoni banknote close up. Great muslim physician, father of early modern medicine.

Tajikistan

Avicenna, the famous Persian polymath is commemorated on money in Tajikistan. His Book of Healing was a standard medical textbook up until the mid seventeenth century and he is also famous for his work on pandemics. He made many other contributions to science and medicine and one of his most famous works is the Danishnama book of knowledge which includes metaphysics and other scientific facts.

Tunisia

The Central Bank of Tunisia celebrates the country’s first female doctor on its 10 dinar note. Dr Tewhida ben Sheikh was the first female to graduate as a doctor in Tunisia and also North Africa. She was known for her work in gynaecology and women’s health as well as being an inspiration to others.

What was striking about researching this article were the people I had never heard of, but through discovering their connection to being celebrated by their country on a banknote, it raised awareness for me of their achievements. It was insightful to see countries where there are lots of medical achievements and yet this did not figure on the country’s currency. And that’s the importance of celebrating science. It is also good reason for not having a cashless society as the culture and heritage of a nation can be revealed on items like banknotes. It will be interesting to see what or who is commemorated in this way as a result of the developments in the Covid-19 global pandemic and the legacy it leaves for society.

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