- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Rudolf Nissen

Born  1896
Died  1981

Related eponyms

German surgeon, born September 5, 1896, Neisse, Oberschlesien, died January 22, 1981, Riehen, near Basel, Switzerland.

Biography of Rudolf Nissen

Rudolf Nissen was the son of a surgeon. He began his medical studies at Breslau in 1914, but because of his military medical service during World War I, he did not graduate until 1920. After training as a voluntary physician and pathological assistant at the universities of Breisgau and Freiburg, he planned to take over his father's clinic in Neisse. However, in September 1922 he received a surprising invitation to work with Ernst Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875-1951) in Munich. This was the beginning og many fruitful years og work. In 1926 he brilliantly defended his habilitation thesis. The next year he followed Sauerbruch to the Berlin Charité, where he became Sauerbruch's deputy and professor extraordinary in 1930.

Nissen was Jewish, but not a religious practitioner. However, when the Nazis came to power he saw that Germany was not the place to stay. On May 29, 1933, Nissen married Ruth Lieselott Clara Becherer (1908-1986) and together they left Germany for the United States of America. However, on their stop in Zürich he received a telegram from the Turkish government with a request that he assume the chair of surgery at the University of Istanbul. This made Nissen change his plans, and on October 1, 1933, Nissen entered his tenure as professor at Bosporus.

Nissen enjoyed life at Bosporus, conducting scientific work and organizing the clinic according to the Sauerbruch model. He also had the opportunity to go on study journeys, visiting USA and the Soviet Union, and took lively part in the congresses in Europe. However, the closer friendship between Turkey and Germany began to cause problems, as the German professors were believed to hold anti Nazi opinions – which they probably did.

When his tenure ended in 1938, Nissen therefore emigrated to the United States of America with his family, settling in New York, where he opened an ambulatory surgical practice. Besides this he had the opportunity to perform large operations at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, and obtained a position as Associate Professor at the Long Island College of Medicine.

He turned down offers of a chair in surgery in Hamburg in 1946 and 1948. However, in 1948 he visited his native country and met his old friend and mentor Sauerbruch for the last time. In 1951 he accepted the offer of a professorship in Basel and entered office in 1952. In his inaugural address he took the opportunity to speak his mind about the Nazis. He remained in this tenure until 1967, aged almost 70 years. In 1966 Rudolf Nissen was made a doctor of honour of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

«Es ist unbestreitbar, dass mit der Ausrottung der Tuberkulose einer der vielen stimulierenden Faktoren aus dem ästhetischen, dem geistigen und künstlerischen Leben der Menschheit verschwinden wird, eine Tatsache, die im Hinblick auf die zunehmende Materialisierung der menschlichen Beziehungen und Ausdrucksformen zu bedauern ist.»

We thank Ann Ragle for information submitted.


  • Exstirpation eines ganzen Lungenflügels.
    Zentralblatt für Chirurgie, Leipzig, 1931, 58: 3003-3006.
    Successful removal of entire bronchiectatic lung.
  • Helle Blätter - dunkle Blätter. Erinnerungen eines Chirurgen. Stuttgart 1969.
  • Fünfzig Jahre erlebter Chirurgie. Stuttgart/New York, 1978.
  • Ferdinand Sauerbruch:
    Das war mein Leben. München 1956. Biographical etc:
  • Hundert Jahre Rudolf Nissen.
    Basler Beiträge zur Chirurgie, volume 9, 1997. 75 pages.
    Vorträge gehalten anlässlich des Symposiums zum 100. Geburtstag von Prof. Dr. Rudolf Nissen am 30.August 1996 an der Universität Basel. Bandherausgeber: F. Harder, M. Rossetti.. 228 Seiten.
  • Bernhard Meyer:
    Ein Ordinariat am Bosporus. Der Chirurg Rudolf Nissen (1896-1981).
    Basler Beiträge zur Chirurgie, 2000, 9: 111-117.

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