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May 25, 1964


JAMA. 1964;188(8):749-751. doi:10.1001/jama.1964.03060340047014

The celebrated surgeon of the 19th century, Christian Albert Theodor Billroth (1829-1894), was a medical educator of great vision, a scholar of great depth, and a musician of appreciable talent.1 Born of Swedish stock in the Prussian community of Bergen on the island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea, Theodor was Austrian by adoption, and Viennese in spirit. Although many of the great physicians of England and Scotland came of clerical families, a majority of the great physicians of Austria and Germany were spawned by merchants, natural scientists, or lawyers. Billroth was the exception; his father, a minister, died of pulmonary tuberculosis, leaving a wife and a young family. Pulmonary tuberculosis reappeared in Billroth's children; two daughters died from this disease.

Theodor was an average student scholastically. Through help of friends at the University of Greifswald and in deference to the wishes of his mother, he enrolled as a student of medicine at the age of 19; however, it has been suggested by his biographers that a career in music was preferred. Medical