- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Bernhard Rudolf Konrad von Langenbeck

Born 1810-11-09
Died 1887-09-29

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German anatomist and surgeon, born November 9, 1810, Padingbüttel, Land Wurstel, Hannover; died September 29, 1887, Wiesbaden.

Biography of Bernhard Rudolf Konrad von Langenbeck

Bernhard Rudolf Konrad von Langenbeck was the nephew of the anatomist and surgeon Konrad Johann Martin Langenbeck (1776-1851) who was his father’s stepbrother. His uncle was also one of his teachers. Langenbeck studied in Göttingen where he received his doctorate in 1835 with the dissertation De retinae structura peniore. The following year he wrote the epoch-making work De retina observationes anatomica-pathologicae. This earned him the Blumebcach travel scholarship and in 1836-1838 he went on an educational journey to France, England, Holland, and Belgium. Particularly the English surgeons William Lawrence (1783-1867) and Sir Astley Cooper influenced him

Following his return he habilitated for Privatdozent in physiology and pathological anatomy in Göttingen on May 1, 1838. 

Langenbeck became extraordinary professor in Göttingen, and in 1842 was called to the chair of surgery in Kiel, where he was also director of the Friedrich-Hospital.

During the war of the duchys against Denmark in 1848 Langenbeck served as physician to the general staff  - General-Stabsarzt - and was in charge of the surgical treatment of the soldiers in the field hospitals.  The same year he was called to Berlin to succeed Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach  (born 1792, who had died in 1847, as professor and Director of the Clinical Institute for Surgery and Ophthalmology at the Charité. 

On the occasion of the 1864 campaign against Denmark, he was appointed Physician General (Generalarzt) and consulting surgeon, and that same year was raised to the nobility. During the campaign he distinguished himself in conservative surgery and gunshot wounds, particularly gunshot fractures. Langenbeck also distinguished himself in the subsequent campaigns, in the Autro-Prussian war of 1866, and the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.

He was in Orléans at the end of 1870 after the city had been taken by the Prussians and in his capacity as surgeon or as consultant tended to the wounded men with whom every public building was packed. He also utilized the opportunities for instruction that thus arose, and the Militär-ärztliche Gesellschaft, which met twice a week for some months, and in the discussions of which every surgeon in the city, irrespective of nationality, was invited to take part, was mainly formed by his energy and enthusiasm.

He was appointed Geheimer Medicinal-Rath, Geheimer Ober-Medicinal-Rath, and upon retiring from his professorship in 1882 was made wirklicher Geheimer Rath.

His experinces from the field hospitals were laid down in numerous papers. He concerned himself particilarly with the resection of joints as weel as gunshot wounds and their treatment, always struggling to save what could be saved. Langenbeck also developed several surgical instruments.

In civil surgery he made important contributions in the development of plastic surgery, like uranoplastic, cheiloplastic and rhinoplastc as well as methods for the remowal of the upper jaw. he also recommended enforced stretching of the knee joint in contractures - without severing the tendons. He is also remembered for his operation of cleft palate, 1861.

For years Langenbeck was the undisputed leader of German surgery. Like his uncle, he was a man of many-sided medical education before he specialized in surgery, concerning himself with normal and pathological anatomy, and making extended travels to England and France for advanced education.

His name first became generally known in 1848, when, as General-Stabsarzt of the young Schleswig-Holstein Army he opened a path for the conservative direction in war surgery by resuming the practice of the resection of the joint that until then had been only rarely used in gunshot wounds. This technique proved itself excellent in the subsequent wars.

Langenbeck was active well into high age, alsways striving to learn from his own experiences and that of others. He was an excellent teacher and was said to a an amiable man of fine character.

Von Langenbeck is perhaps best known today as the "father of the surgical residency". Under his tutellage at the Charite in Berlin, he conceived and developed a system whereby new medical graduates would live at the hospital as they gradually assumed a greater role in the day-to-day care and supervision of surgical patients. Among his most well-known "house staff" were such illustrious surgeons as Christian Albert Theodor Billroth (1829-1894) and Emil Theodor Kocher (1841-1917)
The great achievement of his house-staff model was acknowledged by no less than Sir William Osler (1849-1919) and William Stewart Halsted (1852-1922) who quickly co-opted his concept into the teaching system of the Departments of Medicine and Surgery, respectively, at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in the late 19th century.

Langenbeck authored works on the veins and the exstirpation of the larynx, and distinguished himself with developing methods used in ophthalmology.

Langenbeck introduced the forced extension of contracture of the knee without preceding tenotomy, but his priority to this method was disputed by his cousin Max Langenbeck.

In 1864 he was knighted for his services during thr Danish war.

Langenbech was a highly recognised and very popular teacher, drawing large flocks of students to the University of Berlin during his tenure.

"It is less important to invent new operations and new techniques of operating than to find ways and means to avoid surgery. Yet, it has become increasingly difficult to keep abreast af and to assimilate the investigative reports which accumualte day after day. Albrech von Gräfe, my unforgettable friend, was ill at ease because he felt unable to control even the area of his own discipline; one suffocates, he once told me, through exposure to the massive body of rapidly growing information."
Address at the First Congress of Surgery, April 20, 1872.
Translated by Max Samter.

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