Leonard Erskine Hill

Leonard Erskine Hill (1866 - 1952)

Sir Leonard Erskine Hill (1866 – 1952) was an English physiologist.

He was a renowned medical researcher, with interests in the cerebral circulation, where he designed a pressure gauge screwed into a trephine hole in the skull of a dog to measure intracranial pressure; ultraviolet and infrared rays in therapy.

Involved in the sphygmomanometric measurement of the systolic blood pressure by palpation of the brachial artery and the dorsalis pedis or posterior tibial artery. Remembered for his description of Hill’s sign in 1909


  • Born 2 June 1866, Tottenham, England
  • 1885-89 – Awarded the conjoint medical qualifications M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. from University College London. Awarded the Bruce gold medal for surgery, and other awards for anatomy and physiology
  • 1890 – Achieved M.B. degree from London University
  • 1890-91 – Awarded the Sharpey Scholarship from University College London
  • 1891 – Pursued research in Oxford as an assistant to Burdon-Sanderson’s department. Then returned to University College London as an assistant professor to Sir EA Schafer (Sharpey-Schafer)
  • 1895 – Lecturer in physiology at the London Hospital
  • 1900 – Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, U.K.
  • 1912 – Professor of physiology at London Hospital
  • 1914 – Director of the applied physiology department at the National Institute of Medical Research
  • 1930 – Made Knight Bachelor
  • 1930 – Director of Research at the St John Clinic and Institute of Physical Medicine
  • 1931 – Honourary L.L.D. from the University of Aberdeen
  • Died 30 March 1952, Corton, Suffolk

Medical Eponyms

Hill’s sign (1909)

Increased systolic arterial pressure in lower (popliteal) compared to upper (brachial) limbs in cases of aortic insufficiency.

Hill’s initial investigations were prompted by his colleague Dr W Holtzmann of the London Hospital (and recognised as such in the byline of the published paper)

[Holtzmann] tried the pressure in 2 or 3 cases of aortic regurgitation, and told us that he found a noticeable difference between arm and leg reading in such.

Hill described his sign in 10 cases of aortic insufficiency (1909), and later confirmed the findings (1912) with an in depth explanation of the systolic popliteal-brachial gradient in aortic regurgitation.

A difference between arm and leg systolic readings is most marked in all cases of aortic regurgitation, and when such patients are lying quiet in bed this difference is a diagnostic sign of aortic regurgitation.

…we found that in all cases of aortic regurgitation there is this marked difference, which is not abolished by the method of oscillating the pressure up and down near the obliteration pressure. So marked is this difference that we believe we could pick out cases of aortic regurgitation by it alone

Hill 1909


Sir Hill chose medical research which he stated was

…the path which saves the millions when found”, over medical practice which he described as “a two-horse chariot and a heavy butler, to be gained by honest practical work and a holy regard for respectable conventionality

Without taking his M.D. degree, it was not until 1931 that he was strictly given the ‘doctor’ title from the University of Aberdeen honorary L.L.D.

Hill suffered two bouts of tuberculosis infections in 1904 and 1916, which he overcame through time off and rest in the English countryside.

Major Publications


eponymictionary CTA


the person behind the name

Doctor in Australia. Keen interest in internal medicine, medical education, and medical history.

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