Whitehead was born near Bury, in 1840. He entered his father's bleaching works, but decided to take medical training. He studied at Chatham Street School of Medicine in Manchester, and after qualifying moved to Nottinghamshire to practise. Whitehead returned to Manchester, where he worked at St. Mary's Hospital and became a honorary assistant surgeon at MRI in 1873. He remained at the Infirmary until 1900. He was president of Manchester Medical Society in 1885. Whitehead wrote a number of papers on surgical topics: he established two important operations: the excision of the tongue and the removal of haemorrhoids. Whitehead was professor of clinical surgery at Owens College Manchester from 1894-1900 but did little teaching. Whitehead had previously been one of the group of Manchester doctors who had considered setting up a rival medical school to Owens in the late 1870s. He was president of the BMA meeting at Manchester in 1902.
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