Contributed by Michael Saad, MD Cand
Dr. Georg Joseph Beer, an ophthalmologist recognized for introducing pivotal techniques and instruments to the field, was born on December 23, 1762, in Vienna, Austria at Joseph Palace, where his father worked as the administrator. His father vowed that Beer would later enter the priesthood, though, throughout his childhood, Beer demonstrated profound skill in the arts, having a strong interest in music and painting. After his father’s passing, Beer was left to take care of his mother and siblings at the age of fifteen.
His proficiency in art led him to enroll in the School of Painting of the Academy of Fine Arts, but his interests led Beer down a different career path. Beer began his studies in theology and later completed his medical doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1786. As a medical student, Beer was recognized by Dr. Joseph Barth, a prominent ophthalmologist at the time, and contributed to many of his publications. Barth became critical of Beer and refused to act as his mentor and teacher throughout his training in ophthalmic surgery; Beer later became outspoken about the distress and “torture” he endured from Barth. Beer overcame these obstacles and became a reputable surgeon and teacher.
Beer fought for the expansion of the field, supported by his 1798 publication of a proposed eye clinic in the Salzburg Medical-Surgical Journal and his offer to train students at half the cost of the standard rate in 1809, both of which were rejected by committees under the influence of Barth. Beer did not lose faith, and in 1818 he took his ideas and concerns to court where the Imperial Royal Study Commission ruled that a professorship for his field be established at the University of Vienna and Beer would be named director of this department.
Beer created the first private eye hospital and subsequently developed an additional clinic in the General Hospital of Vienna that still stands today. Throughout his career, he extracted more than 1800 cataracts and made innovative contributions to the style and methods of the operation. Beer developed a triangular cataract knife that created a precise incision that prevented the iris from prolapsing as aqueous fluid escaped the opening. In addition, in 1805 he published the procedure of an novel procedure, an iridectomy, through which an incision was made in the limbus with his triangular knife and pulled the iris out with forceps. Beer was fascinated by the detailed anatomy of the eye and wrote several books on it.
Against all odds in his early career, Beer became a skilled ophthalmic surgeon and teacher who was cherished and respected by his colleagues and students. In 1819, Beer suffered a stroke and died in Vienna in 1821. His ambition to advance the field and pass on his knowledge is honored to this day.