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A World Leader for Centuries: The History of MedUni Vienna

The Medical University of Vienna can look back on an eventful history full of glorious peaks and painful depths. The historical collections of MedUni Vienna, incl. the magnificent Josephinum record this for interested members of the general public.

MedUni Vienna celebrated its 10th anniversary as an independent university, separate from the University of Vienna, in 2014. So it is one of the youngest universities, but at the same time it can point to a tradition going back many centuries: From the University of the Middle Ages to the ultra-modern research location.


MedUni Vienna from 1365 to Today

Earliest Evidence from the Middle Ages

As the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna, MedUni Vienna was a founding member of the Alma Mater Rudolphina, founded in 1365, and a universally recognised authority in matters of health since the Middle Ages. Faculty files dating back to 1399 still exist today and they document that it was called upon as a mediator in disputes between barber-surgeons, midwives and regional landlords. In what is now Upper and Lower Austria and parts of Bavaria, only medical doctors licenced by the Medical Faculty of Vienna were allowed to practice.

The Vienna Medical School in the Imperial Capital

The faculty first gained international renown in the 18th century, when the Dutchman Gerard van Swieten was summoned to Vienna by the Habsburg ruler Maria Theresia. He laid the foundation for the First Vienna Medical School. From then on, medical luminaries taught and performed their research in the imperial capital and elevated what we now call bedside teaching to a paradigmatic training method.

The Birthplace of Specialised Medicine

With the opening of the General Hospital in 1784, the physicians received a new domain, which more and more developed into the most important research center. In the course of the 19th century, the Second Vienna Medical School emerged. Doctors and students successfully fought for the principle of freedom of teaching and of learning. Basic medical science expanded and specialisation advanced. Furthermore, the first dermatology, eye, as well as ear, nose and throat clinics in the world were founded in Vienna! In 1897, Dr. med. Gabriele Possaner is the first woman to receive a doctoral degree at the University of Vienna. In 1900, the first women are admitted to the study of medicine.

Cutting Edge Medicine in the 20th Century

At the beginning of the 20th century, medicine in Vienna was among the best in the world. 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, were based on fundamental research from that period. The excellent medical tradition and research extended well into the First Republic.

The Greatest Turning Point of 1938

With the annexation of Austria by National Socialist Germany on March 13, 1938, the darkest phase in Viennese medicine began. More than half of the University's medical instructors, mostly those of Jewish descent, were dismissed. Many renowned researchers, physicians, and students were forced to emigrate or died in concentration camps or under other tragic circumstances. The victims of National Socialism shall always be remembered, also by the Memorial on the campus of the Medical University of Vienna.

1945: Reconstruction of Society and Medicine

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. This double rupture in Viennese medicine, which occurred in just a few years, caused repercussions that lasted for decades.

1994: The new Vienna General Hospital

The official opening of the new Vienna General Hospital in 1994 provided new impetus. By 1996, all of the university departments had been brought together and expanded at the General Hospital site. This meant that Vienna's finest medical practitioners were based at a single, state-of-theart university hospital, providing the ideal framework for clinical research.

2004: A New Beginning with the First Great Successes

In 2004, MedUni Vienna was established as an independent University, separate from the University of Vienna. For its 10th anniversary in 2014, it rose in rank and became for the first time part of the Top 50 of the best medical schools in the world, meaning rank 14 in Europe and rank 3 in the German-speaking area.

Today: The Triple Track as a Factor for Success

Today, MedUni Vienna is regarded to be one of the best medical universities in the world, whose researchers publish in top journals and are engaged in excellent research. The equal value accorded to research, education and patient care as well as the operation of the largest hospital in Europe make MedUni Vienna unique - these focuses will be further strengthened in the future with the project "University Medicine 2020".


The world’s Largest Collection of Medical History

The Medical University's collections on the history of medicine are unique in Europe. They represent the 650 years of this institution and its cultural heritage. The overall cultural heritage of the Medical University of Vienna is among the largest collections in the world and consists of many different areas - e.g. architecture, teaching materials, instruments, manuscripts, literature, archival material and images.

The early Classicist Josephinum, built in 1785 under Joseph II on Waehringer Strasse is the architectural highlight of the collections of MedUni Vienna. It has a special significance as the gateway to the history of medicine: Not just due to the historic, architectural and cultural value of the building and its original collections, but as an institution that administers, processes and conveys the entire historical holdings of MedUni Vienna.

The rich cultural heritage of MedUni Vienna stands out, because the holdings have evolved over many centuries and they are presented to the public through exhibitions. The building, designed by Isidor Canevale today houses the Museum for Anatomical Wax Models and, with the collections of La Specola in Florence, it is among the largest of its kind in Europe. The collections of the Josephinum are open to the public.