William B. Bean

William Bennett Bean (1909-1989) 600

William Bennett Bean (1909-1989) was an American physician, medical historian

Between 1937 and 1974 Bean published over 600 works, and for over thirty years, and served as editor for fifteen journals, most notably the Archives of Internal Medicine

Bean wrote on myriad eclectic topics ranging from respiratory, liver and cardiac disease; to nutrition, climatology, slum eradication and housing; to the aphorisms of Latham and Osler and the history of medicine.

Eponymously remembered for his description of Bean syndrome in 1958 [Blue rubber bleb nevus syndrome]

  • Born on November 8, 1909 in Manila, Philippine Islands son of physician Robert Bennett Bean, MD (1874-1944), a former resident under Sir William Osler
  • 1932 – BA, University of Virginia
  • 1935 – MD, University of Virginia. Interned at the Johns Hopkins Hospital
  • 1948 – Professor of medicine and head of internal medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine
  • 1950 – Collated his father’s student notes whilst studying under Osler; published as Sir William Osler: Aphorisms from His Bedside Teachings
  • 1958 – Fellow of the American Medical Writers Association
  • 1969 – Swanberg Distinguished Service Award
  • 1970 – Co-founded the American Osler Society
  • 1974 – Director of the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston; acting chairman of the department of dermatology
  • 1980 – Iowa, Sir William Osler Professor Emeritus
  • Died on March 1, 1989

Medical Eponyms
Bean syndrome (1958) [Blue rubber bleb nevus syndrome]

1958 – In his classic monograph, Bean separated from the heterogenous group of vascular lesions of the skin a variety of bluish hemangioma of the skin found in association with hemangiomas of the gastrointestinal tract which cause serious bleeding. To this he gave the name “blue rubber-bleb nevus of the skin and gastrointestinal tract” because the larger hemangiomas “have some of the feel and look of rubber nipples, are compressible and refill fairly promptly from their rumpled compressed state.”

The skin lesions vary in size, shape, and number. Bean did not emphasize the microscopic appearance of the lesions although he included a photomicrograph of a section of one of the skin lesions in the case he described. He stated:

While much less common than hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, the syndrome of erectile bluish nevi of the skin and angiomatosis of the gut associated with enteric bleeding is definite. Though lesions of the skin may bleed with injury, spontaneous bleeding is rare, whereas it is characteristic of the lesions of the bowel

Bean 1958: 178-185
Blue rubber bleb nevus syndrome 3 1958
Figure 63 (left). Blue rubber-bleb nevus. Many of this young boy’s lesions are revealed better in this infrared photograph because many lesions do not appear at the skin surface.
Figure 64 (right). Blue rubber-bleb nevus. This photograph was taken at operation. It reveals three of the many hemangiomas of the gut of the patient shown in Figure 63.
Bean 1958: 178-185

Other eponyms

Bean Award (2000): The American Osler Society award to support research in the broad areas of medical history and medical humanities

Key Medical Contributions

Lindsay nails…

1962 – Bill Bean and James Clifton published on A reddish discoloration of the distal nail was noted in two patients with azotemia.

In 1962, Dr. James Clifton and I observed two patients who had the extraordinary abnormality depicted in Figure 6. Between a third and almost a half of the distal portion of the nail they had a red, slightly orange color. Most of this color faded out when the free edge of the nail was pressed though the area which had been red was still distinguished by a gray color. Both patients with this nail lesion had renal disease. One died of uremia. The other had only moderate renal failure associated with prolonged diabetes.

Bean 1963
William Bennett Bean 1963 half and half nails 2
Increased vascularity causing a red discoloration of the nail. Most of the red color could be caused to fade out by strong pressure. Bean 1963, Fig 6

Major Publications



Eponymous terms


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

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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