Medical training at UiO gave rise to the Norwegian health service

Some 200 years ago, all Norwegian doctors had trained in Denmark. Parallel to Norway getting its own Constitution in 1814, the Faculty of Medicine was established as part of the fledgling Royal Frederik University. Norway could finally educate its own doctors and start building up a national health service.  

Ill. Hanne Utigard, UiO

Starting from scratch

When the Faculty of Medicine opened its doors to students, it was extremely poorly equipped. It had no preparations for anatomy classes; more seriously, it did not even have a hospital. In the first years after the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine, one of the most pressing needs was for a place for professors and students to practise.

At that time in Norway, students did their clinical practice by treating sick people in their own homes, and many people doubted the feasibility of setting up a comprehensive medical programme in Oslo. It seemed likely that the students would have to go to Copenhagen to complete their training. However, the historic events of 1814 helped further the cause, and the need for a hospital in Oslo became even more pressing.

The University and the hospital

The University's needs were decisive for the establishment of Norway's first real hospital. Indeed, the Faculty of Medicine has played a key role in building up the Norwegian health service.

Professor Frederik Holst[i] has been called the most prolific "builder of institutions" in Norwegian medicine, and he was also a driving force behind the establishment of many institutions outside the University too. Initially, the University used the military hospital in Hammersborg, where the first national hospital was also opened in 1826. The National Hospital Rikshospitalet was established in close association with the Faculty of Medicine.

The professors at the University were also senior medical officers at the new national hospital, and it was here the students received their clinical training. In 1883, the hospital moved to Pilestredet. Nowadays too, the clinical activities of the Faculty are performed in close cooperation with the university hospitals and their laboratories, including Oslo

University Hospital and Akershus University Hospital. Research is an integral part of the hospitals' work. In addition to the Faculty's own teaching staff at the hospitals, many hospital employees also have a second job at the University, for example as an adjunct professor.

One professor per student

In its first year, the Faculty of Medicine admitted three students and had three professors. At the time, there were about 100 doctors in Norway. There were formal requirements regarding doctors' education, but the reality was that many doctors were not fully qualified.

The Norwegian medical profession underwent a radical transformation in the period after 1814 and the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine. From having a status almost akin to master craftsmen, doctors were now trained as scientific experts. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were 1,200 doctors in Norway, nearly all of whom had been educated in Norway. Until the University of Bergen was established in 1946, Oslo was the only place in the country that offered medical training.

Doctors and scientists

In the wake of the scientification of medical training, doctors enjoyed higher status and were delegated the authority to design the Norwegian national health service. In 1824, the Faculty of Medicine became a formal advisory body to the government. For a long time, professors at the Faculty also held executive positions at the national hospital.

Education first, research later

For many years, the main activity at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oslo was training doctors, in order to build up the Norwegian health service; but from about 1870, research started in earnest. Initially, research focused on issues such as nutrition and hygiene.

Over time, however, a wide range of research topics developed. At this time, infection was still a dominant health problem, and microbiology was therefore at the core of the research performed at the Faculty. Physical anthropology was an important basic subject in the period between the two world wars, while later on neuroanatomy developed into a major research institute at a high international level. From the 1950s, general physiology and biochemistry also grew to become important research areas.

Now we (also) train doctors

Today, the Faculty of Medicine in Oslo has more than 2,000 students, an academic staff of nearly 600, and a budget of over one billion kroner a year. The Faculty is divided into three departments and is involved in three Centres of Excellence.

The Faculty continues to train doctors: as much as 60 per cent of our students take the professional study programme in medicine. In addition, we now also offer Master's degrees in nursing science, health sciences, health administration, health economics, international health, psychosocial care and nutrition.

Series of articles

This article is one of several in a series to mark the University of Oslo's bicentennial, highlighting the role the institution has played in Norwegian society.

By Stein Roar Fredriksen
Published Sep. 2, 2011 10:12 AM - Last modified Sep. 2, 2011 10:24 AM