OUR HISTORY IS OUR FUTURE
Glorious Peaks and Painful Depths-Viennese Medicine
It began as a success story: As the founding member of the alma mater Rudolfina (1365), the medical faculty was already widely renowned in medieval times as an authority in medicine. Faculty records from as far back as 1399 document its mediation in disputes between barber surgeons, midwifes, and local landowners. During the reign of Maria Theresia, Viennese medicine first attained international significance. The Habsburg Monarch summoned the Dutch physician, Gerard van Swieten, to Vienna. He in turn laid the foundation for the Vienna Medical School and paved the way for other leading figures. Anton de Haen, Maximilian Stoll, Lorenz Gasser, Anton von Störck, and the discoverer of the percussion technique, Leopold Auenbrugger, all taught and conducted research in the imperial city. Based on longstanding traditions, what now is referred to as “bedside teaching” also became the paradigmatic educational method during this period.
Birthplace of Specialized Medicine
When the General Hospital opened in 1784, physicians acquired a new facility that gradually developed into the most important research center. During the 19th century, the “Second Viennese Medical School” emerged with the contributions of physicians such as Karl Rokitansky, Josef Skoda, Ferdinand von Hebra and Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Basic medical science expanded and specialization advanced. Furthermore, the first dermatology, eye, as well as ear, nose and throat clinics in the world were founded in Vienna.
Center of Top Medicine at the Beginning of the 20th Century
At the beginning of the 20th Century Viennese Medicine belonged to the first class internationally. Clemens von Pirquet defined the concepts of “allergy” and “serum sickness,” Ernst Peter Pick conducted significant experiments on the chemical specificity of immunological reactions, and the Vienna School of Dentistry (founded by Bernhard Gotlieb) reached its zenith in the 1920s. All four Nobel Prizes, which were granted to (former) Viennese physicians during the next decades [Robert Bárány (1914), Julius Wagner-Jauregg (1927), Karl Landsteiner (1930), and Otto Loewi (1936)], were the result of work undertaken at this time. The excellent tradition and research extended well into the First Republic. Under the auspices of the Medical Association of Vienna, which was founded in Vienna, well-received postgraduate courses for doctors worldwide were organized into the 1930s.
The Greatest Turning Point: 13 March 1938
With the so-called annexation of Austria by National Socialist Germany on 13 March 1938 the darkest phase in Viennese medicine began. More than half of the University medical instructors, mostly those of Jewish descent, and 65% of Viennese physicians were dismissed. Many renowned researchers, physicians, and students were forced to emigrate or died in concentration camps and under other tragic circumstances. The victims of National Socialism shall always be remembered. The Medical University of Vienna perceives the 13th of March 1938 as a date of admonition and commemoration.
2004, A New Beginning with Vital Responsibility
In the aftermath of World War II the difficult reconstruction of Viennese medicine began. The past glory had faded considerably. Moreover, 75% of all University medical instructors had to be dismissed because of their moderate to heavy involvement with the National Socialist regime. They were gradually replaced by a newly trained generation of educators. This double rupture in Viennese Medicine, which occurred in just a few years, caused repercussions that lasted decades.
Since gaining autonomy on 1 January 2004, the Medical University of Vienna embraces its successes but also responsibility for the past as it proudly continues its quest for excellence.
Translated by Dr. Bruce A. Murray