Ibn al-Nafis was born in 1213 to an Arab family probably at a village near Damascus named Karashia, after which his Nisba might be derived. Early in his life, He studied theology, philosophy and literature. Then, at the age of 16, he started studying medicine for more than ten years at the Nuri Hospital in Damascus, which was founded by the Turkish Prince Nur-al Din Muhmud ibn Zanki, in the 12th century. He was contemporary with the famous Damascene physician Ibn Abi Usaibia and they both were taught by the founder of a medical school in Damascus, Al-Dakhwar. Ibn Abi Usaibia does not mention Ibn al-Nafis at all in his biographical dictionary "Lives of the Physicians". The seemingly intentional omission could be due to personal animosity or maybe rivalry between the two physicians.
In 1236, Ibn al-Nafis, along with some of his colleagues, moved to Egypt under the request of the Ayyubid sultan al-Kamil. Ibn al-Nafis was appointed as the chief physician at al-Naseri hospital which was founded by Saladin, where he taught and practiced medicine for several years. One of his most notable students was the famous Christian physician Ibn al-Quff. Ibn al-Nafis also taught jurisprudence at al-Masruriyya Madrassa (Arabic: المدرسة المسرورية). His name is found among those of other scholars, which gives insight into how well he was regarded in the study and practice of religious law.
Ibn al-Nafis lived most of his life in Egypt, and witnessed several pivotal events like the fall of Baghdad and the rise of Mamluks. He even became the personal physician of the sultan Baibars and other prominent political leaders, thus showcasing himself as an authority among practitioners of medicine. Later in his life, when he was 74 old, Ibn al-Nafis was appointed as the chief physician of the newly founded al-Mansori hospital where he worked until the rest of his life.
Ibn al-Nafis died in Cairo after some days sickness. His student Safi Aboo al-fat'h composed a poem about him. Prior to his death, he donated his house and library to Qalawun Hospital or, as it was also known, the House of Recovery.