In the early 1850s, Sims traveled to Philadelphia and New York City to try to improve his health, since he often had bouts of malaria. There, he met with other doctors and soon gained notoriety for his innovations in gynecology after publishing an article describing his new surgical techniques. He was then appointed head surgeon of the newly created Women's Hospital of New York, which he helped established. During the Civil War, he worked in Europe, where his reputation followed him. He treated women in royal families such as empress of Austria. Sims returned to the New York City after the war and once again worked at the women's hospital. He published his memoir The Story of My Life shortly before his death in 1883.
Sims performed hundreds of operations without anesthesia on at least thirty enslaved women. While these experiments collectively allowed Sims to expand his knowledge of the emerging field of gynecology and led to significant medical advances, his methods left at least some of these women with debilitating physical and mental trauma. Only three of Sims' victims are known by name, and each by their first name only. One woman identified as Anarcha endured thirty operations.
On April 23, 2018, two Alabama residents offered a historical reenactment where a physician wearing modern-day medical scrubs performed an operation on an African American woman portraying an enslaved woman against her will. The two residents hoped to draw attention to the fact that Sims performed operations on women who could not consent to the procedure. The man who portrayed the physician, 74-year old veteran Jon Broadway, was arrested and taken to jail by capitol police and charged with criminal tampering with a protected landmark after a small amount of ketchup that represented the blood of the enslaved woman was found left on the premises. The female protester who was part of the demonstration was not arrested and Mr. Broadway declined to share her name with reporters who interviewed him after the arrest.