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Alumnus assists in look back at German’s surgeon’s 1908 impressions of Mayo Clinic

Mayo alumnus Alan Hofmann, M.D. (R-D ’77), professor emeritus of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, assisted in the preparation of the manuscript “Impressions of a young German surgeon on American surgery a century ago with special emphasis on the brothers Mayo.”

The subject of the manuscript is Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875-1951), a German surgeon who was head of the surgical departments of the University of Zurich, University of Munich and University of Berlin.

In 1908 Dr. Sauerbruch traveled to the United States to address a meeting of the American Medical Association about his surgical innovations, including how to prevent the collapse of the lung when the chest was opened. During the trip, Dr. Sauerbruch visited several medical institutions, including five days at Mayo Clinic. Four years after the visit, Dr. Sauerbruch addressed his colleagues about what he considered good and bad in American surgical education.

Dr. Sauerbruch’s grandson, Dr. Tilman Sauerbruch, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Bonn, Germany, translated his grandfather’s remarks into English and is Dr. Hoffmann’s co-author. The two men are personal friends.

Dr. Hoffmann received the Mayo Clinic Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2001.

Read the full manuscript.

Excerpts from the five pages devoted to Dr. Sauerbruch’s Mayo Clinic visit follow:

… Next, let me tell you about a wonderland of surgery ¾ you may well call it that ¾ which does not exist anywhere else in the world and probably never will. Over there, high up in the North in a still sparsely populated district of the state of Minnesota lies a small town of previously three and now 7000 inhabitants: Rochester.

… When one asks oneself, how it can be possible that in a small town, in a remote location far from the large cities, such an enterprise can be developed, I believe the answer lies not only in the particular American circumstances, but also in the truly excellent organizational and surgical skills of the Mayo brothers.

… Certainly, every visitor will be amazed by the proficiency of the Mayo brothers in any aspect of modern research. This is further proof of their outstanding organizational skills, since every assistant has to regularly study and lecture on his specific area of expertise.

… Once you have observed these men at their work and observed their successes, you simply have to grant them absolute admiration ¾ especially when noting how humble they are.

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