|Rutherford was born on 1 August 1695. He was educated at Selkirk grammar school, then the University of Edinburgh (1709-10), and after the ordinary arts course, was apprenticed to Alexander Nesbit, an Edinburgh surgeon, with whom he remained until 1716.
Rutherford then moved to London, and attended the various hospitals, hearing lectures by James Douglas on anatomy and by Nathanael St André on surgery. From London he went to Leiden, which Herman Boerhaave was then making famous as a centre of medical teaching. He obtained his MD from Rheims on 31 July 1719.
In 1720 Rutherford returned to Britain, settled in Edinburgh in 1721, and with the doctors Andrew Sinclair, Andrew Plummer, and John Innes, started a laboratory for the preparation of compound medicines, an art then little known in Scotland. They also taught the rudiments of chemistry, and afterwards, on Boerhaave's advice, lectured on other branches of physic. On 9 February 1726 they all became professors in the University of Edinburgh. Rutherford had been elected FRCP, Edinburgh, in 1724, and was appointed to the chair of the practice of physic. He delivered his lectures in Latin, which he spoke more fluently than his native tongue.
Rutherford is important because he started the clinical teaching of medicine in the University of Edinburgh, the first place in Britain to teach in this way. In 1748 he was permitted to give a course of clinical lectures in the Royal Infirmary, to supplement bedside teaching. He encouraged his pupils to bring patients to him on Saturdays, when he made a diagnosis and prescribed a course of action in the presence of the class. The success of this innovation was so great, and the number of students increased so rapidly, that by 1750 he had a special ward of his own with twelve beds. In 1765 Rutherford resigned, and was succeeded by John Gregory.
Rutherford died in Edinburgh in 1779 and was buried on 10 March 1779 in Greyfriars churchyard, Edinburgh.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Lectures by John Rutherford titled 'Praelectiones Medicinae Practicae', c1750; academic papers, 1750s; clinical lectures, 1750-1751