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Book about 200 years of medicine in Leiden

The book ‘Geleerde Zorgen: twee eeuwen academische geneeskunde in Leiden’ (‘Learned Care: two centuries of academic medicine in Leiden’) was presented on 16 December to Annetje Ottow (President of the Executive Board of Leiden University) and Pancras Hogendoorn, Dean and member of the Executive Board of the LUMC) by its author, Mieke van Baarsel. ‘People made the institution.’

In the 23 chapters of Geleerde Zorgen, historian Van Baarsel describes how a small building with 32 beds at Pieterskerkhof transformed over the years into today’s Leiden University Medical Center. ‘There wasn’t a complete overview of this history,’ she says. ‘I chose to start in the year 1815. The French period was followed by a period in which our country reinvented itself in many areas, including medicine. What happened in Leiden while medical science was emerging in the same century? And how did the research and teaching develop afterwards? The book describes these developments until 1980. That was when the first stone was laid for the LUMC as we know it today.’ 

Mieke van Baarsel presents the book to Pancras Hogendoorn and Annetje Ottow.

Change thanks to personal ambitions

Van Baarsel started her research for the book in the summer of 2017. Based in part on administrative archives and ‘individual’ histories of disciplines that doctors usually wrote once retired, she produced a single, accessible whole. The image editor was Annemiek Versluys, a former nurse at the LUMC. 

‘While writing I realised that most of the changes that occurred were the result of the personal ambitions of individuals, professors in particular,’ says Van Baarsel. ‘If something changed in society or in the government’s views of medical topics, these individuals were often the driving force behind them. You could say that people made the LUMC the institution that it is today.’ It sometimes took a lot of convincing. ‘The government financed all the plans, and thought for a long time that training students was the most important task of a teaching hospital. That has changed now.’

Leading medical centre

The author describes how the Netherlands was still lagging behind other countries in medicine at the start of the nineteenth century. Medical students from Leiden went to cities such as Berlin, Vienna and Paris and returned with fresh new ideas. Van Baarsel: ‘After the Second World War, America was the example. Leiden became a leader in a number of fields, such as (open) heart surgery. The study in Leiden of congenital heart defects in children saved many lives.’

Also worth mentioning are transplants, she says. ‘The first kidney transplant in the Netherlands was in Leiden in 1966. It was research in Leiden into the signs of rejection that had Jon van Rood and his staff on the scent of HLA, a system in which donor and recipient are matched.’

Lessons from the past

Pancras Hogendoorn said he was pleased with the beautiful photos in the book, and noted that there is still so much we can learn from the past. ‘It’s interesting that a hundred years ago it was modern to set up a hospital as a collection of pavilions. This means that patients (with infectious diseases) did not end up lying next to each other. We are now in the coronavirus pandemic and everything is under one roof again, from patients and staff to students. You see that we have to do all we can to separate these groups to avoid transmission.’

Annetje Ottow emphasised the important relationship between the LUMC and Leiden University. The book honours this relationship, she said. ‘I have deep respect for everything that goes on at the LUMC, particularly in these turbulent times. This book symbolises that. It is important to pass this message on to students and the community.’

Order the book ‘Geleerde Zorgen: twee eeuwen academische geneeskunde in Leiden’ from the Leiden University Press website or a bookstore.

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