Serendipitious Discoveries In Healthcare

Nov 17, 2020 | Aussie Nurse

The word “serendipity” is from a Persian fairy tale- ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’. While travelling the three princes were known to have adventures which included making accidental discoveries even when they were not looking for them

Science as a discipline is frequently where many unexpected discoveries have been made, from the well known legend of Newton being hit on the head with an apple and causing an “aha moment” forming the law of gravity. These chance moments are an opportunity of discovery that influence our everyday lives for example household items that began as serendipitous moments are the inventions of the Microwave, X-rays, Post it pads, Teflon and Velcro.


Discoveries In Medicine –


Sir Alexander Fleming a physician and microbiologist, discovered the antibiotic Penicillin in 1928. Apparently he wasn’t very tidy and this may of helped with his discoveries, he returned back to his laboratory after a holiday and he found a Petri dish containing staphylococcus culture was infected by a Penicillium mould and it had no bacteria growing near it, this was the discovery of penicillin.


In 1889, Oscar Minkowski and Josef von Mering were trying to understand how the pancreas affected digestion. They removed the pancreas from a healthy dog and saw unexpectedly that many flies were flying around the dogs urine and from that sugar was found when testing the urine. They realised that by removing the pancreas, they had given the dog diabetes and later researchers found that the pancreas produced the pancreatic secretion that is called ‘Insulin’.



John Frederick Joseph Cade was an Australian psychiatrist and in 1948 he discovered the effects lithium carbonate had as a mood stabilizer in the treatment of bipolar disorder. At that time standard treatments for psychosis were electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy. 

The discovery of lithium was found by injecting lithium carbonate solution into guinea pigs and they had effects where they became more restful, these experiments displayed the effects of the lithium ion and is used for treatment as a medication.



Sildenafil or known better under its brand name- Viagra or even famously as the Little Blue Pill. It is a medication that now treats both erectile dysfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension but it was originally being developed as a treatment for hypertension and angina. 

During clinical trials men were noticing different effects which was effective for men who couldn’t maintain an erection and this serendipitous finding is one of the most famous accidental discoveries.

Discoveries By Nurses –


Ostomy Bag –

Originally before ostomy bags were available a person with a stoma had a lot of issues with the equipment that was being used due to smells and leakage of the persons waste products.

Elise Sørensen was a Danish nurse who’s sister Thora had colon cancer and after the surgery, Elise invented and patented an ostomy pouch for the collection of waste. 

The ostomy bags Elsie invented are similar to the products we are familiar with today, the plastic pouch adhered to the body and allowed a person to live a ‘normal’ life. 

In 1963, Elise Sørensen was elected nurse of the year by The Danish Nurse’s Organisation.


Sanitary Pads-

During WWI and on the battlefield, soldiers wounds that were bleeding excessively were treated with bandages made from Cellocotton (manufactured wood pulp) to stop the bleeding of the soldiers wounds, the Cellocotton was cheaper and more absorbent than cotton bandages.

The feminine hygiene products we know nowadays in the supermarkets was born from the field nurses using the bandage products unofficially, the sanitary pads were the ideal personal sanitary products used during menstruation and could be thrown away easily after usage.


There are many breakthroughs discovered that have occurred through the result of fortunate serendipities in healthcare, these innovations such as the discovery of DNA, or the invention of the cardiac pacemaker hold many benefits.

One benefit of serendipity includes making things better in everyday life and it must be wonderful for the people who capture the new possibilities, even when they are not looking for them.


(Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash)

One sometimes finds what one is not looking for – Alexander Fleming

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