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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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Josef Skoda

Celebrated clinical lecturer and diagnostician and co-founder of the modern medical school of Vienna, b. at Pilsen in Bohemia, December 10, 1805; d. at Vienna, June 13, 1881

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Skoda (SCHKODA), JOSEF, celebrated clinical lecturer and diagnostician and, with Rokitansky, founder of the modern medical school of Vienna, b. at Pilsen in Bohemia, December 10, 1805; d. at Vienna, June 13, 1881. Skoda was the son of a locksmith. He attended the gymnasium at Pilsen, entered the University of Vienna in 1825, and received the degree of Doctor of Medicine on July 10, 1831. He first served in Bohemia as physician during the outbreak of cholera, was assistant physician in the general hospital of Vienna, 1832-38, in 1839 city physician of Vienna for the poor, and on February 13, 1840, on the recommendation of Dr. Ludwig, Freiherr von T├╝rkheim, chairman of the imperial committee of education, was appointed to the unpaid position of chief physician of the department for consumptives just opened in the general hospital. In 1846, thanks to the energetic measures of Karl Rokitansky, professor of pathological anatomy, he was appointed professor of the medical clinic against the wishes of the rest of the medical faculty. In 1848 he began to lecture in German instead of Latin, being the first professor to adopt this course. On July 17, 1848, he was elected an active member of the mathematico-physical section of the Academy of Sciences. Early in 1871 he retired from his professorship, and the occasion was celebrated by the students and the population of Vienna by a great torchlight procession in his honor. Rokitansky calls him "a light for those who study, a model for those who strive, and a rock for those who despair". Skoda's benevolent disposition is best shown by the fact that, notwithstanding his large income and known simplicity of life, he left a comparatively small fortune, and in his will bequeathed legacies to a number of benevolent institutions.

Skoda's great merit lies in his development of the methods of physical investigation. The discovery of the method of percussion diagnosis made in 1761 by the Viennese physician, Leopold Auenbrugger (1722-1809), had been forgotten, and the knowledge of it was first revived in 1808 by Corvisart (1755-1821), court-physician to Napoleon I. Laennec (1787-1826) and his pupils Piorry and Bouillaud added auscultation to this method. Skoda began his clinical studies in close connection with pathological anatomy while assistant physician of the hospital, but his superiors failed to understand his course, and in 1837, by way of punishment, transferred him to the ward for the insane, as it was claimed that the patients were annoyed by his investigations, especially by the method of percussion. His first publication, "Uber die Perkussion" in the "Medizinische Jahrbucher des k.k. osterreichen Kaiserstaates", IX (1836), attracted but little attention. This paper was followed by: "fiber den Herzstoss und die durch die Herzbewegungen verursachten Tone und fiber die Anwendung der Perkussion bei Untersuchung der Organe des Unterleibes", in the same periodical, vols. XIII, XIV (1837); "Ober Abdominaltyphus und dessen Behandlung mit Alumen crudum", also in the same periodical, vol. XV (1838); "Untersuchungsmethode zur Bestimmung des Zustandes des Herzens", vol. XVIII (1839); "fiber Pericarditis in pathologisch-anatomischer und diagnostischer Beziehung", XIX (1839); "ttber Piorrys Semiotik und Diagnostik", vol. XVIII (1839); "ttber die Diagnose der Herzklappenfehler", vol. XXI (1840). His small but up to now unsurpassed chief work, "Abhandlung fiber die Perkussion und Auskultation" (Vienna, 1839), has been repeatedly published and translated into foreign languages. It established his universal renown as a diagnostician. In 1841, after a journey for research to Paris, he made a separate division in his department for skin diseases and thus gave the first impulse towards the reorganization of dermatology by Ferdinand Hebra. In 1848 at the request of the ministry of education he drew up a memorial on the reorganization of the study of medicine, and encouraged later by his advice the founding of the present higher administration of the medical school of Vienna. As regards therapeutics the accusation was often made against him that he held to the "Nihilism" of the Vienna School. As a matter of fact his therapeutics were exceedingly simple in contrast to the great variety of remedial agents used at that time, which he regarded as useless, as in his experience many ailments were cured without medicines, merely by suitable medical supervision and proper diet. His high sense of duty as a teacher, the large amount of work he performed as a physician, and the early appearance of organic heart-trouble are probably the reasons that from 1848 he published less and less. The few papers which he wrote from 1850 are to be found in the transactions of the Academy of Sciences and the periodical of the Society of Physicians of Vienna of which he was the honorary president.


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