Emil Theodor Kocher Biography

Theodor Kocher, a Swiss physician and Nobel Prize winner, made significant contributions to the fields of physiology, pathology, and surgery. With a passion for medicine from a young age, he pursued his studies at the University of Bern and later became a prominent figure in the university’s faculty. Kocher’s groundbreaking work in aseptic surgery and thyroid treatments revolutionized the field. His meticulous techniques and emphasis on preserving the thyroid gland greatly improved patient outcomes and reduced mortality rates. His research also laid the foundation for modern thyroid treatments using hormone replacement therapy. Recognized for his achievements, Kocher was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1909. Through his numerous publications, he continues to be regarded as one of the most influential medical practitioners and surgeons in history.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 75
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Marie Witschi-Courant
    • Father: Jakob Alexander Kocher
    • Mother: Maria Kocher
  • Born Country: Switzerland
  • Swiss Men
  • Male Physicians
  • Died on: July 27, 1917
  • Place of death: Bern, Switzerland
  • City: Bern, Switzerland
  • Notable Alumni: University Of Bern
  • More Facts
  • Education: University of Bern
  • Awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1909)

Childhood & Early Life

Theodor Kocher was born Emil Theodor Kocher on August 25, 1841, in Bern, Switzerland. He was born into a financially well-off family, with his father working as an engineer and his mother as a housewife. Theodor began his schooling in Burgdorf in 1845 but later moved back to Bern to complete his middle and higher education. While he excelled in academics and had a great interest in art and classical philology, he eventually became interested in becoming a doctor. In 1858, he enrolled at the University of Bern and earned his doctorate degree in 1865, studying under renowned doctors Anton Biermer and Hermann Askan Demme.


After graduating, Theodor traveled to London, Paris, and Berlin to further his knowledge in the field of medicine and work with great surgeons. He worked under Bernhard von Langenbeck in Berlin and later worked for surgeons such as Jonathan Hutchinson, Henry Thompson, and John Erichsen in London. He also spent time in Paris, where he interacted and worked with top surgeons and became fluent in English. Upon his return to Bern, he faced difficulties getting a job at the faculty of the University of Bern due to the requirement of appointing German doctors to top positions. However, with the support of local press and doctors, he was eventually appointed as the Ordinary Professor of Surgery and Director of the University Surgical Clinic at just 30 years old.

During his tenure at the University of Bern, Theodor wrote numerous medical papers and books, trained many young doctors, and treated thousands of patients. His contribution to Aseptic Surgery gained attention, as he supported and implemented Joseph Lister’s antiseptic method in wound management. He also conducted research in neurology and neurosurgery, focusing on concussions, intracranial pressure, and the surgical treatment of epilepsy and cranial and spinal trauma. His work in thyroid surgery remains his most widely acknowledged contribution, as he discovered the dangers of completely removing the thyroid gland and advocated for a more precise method.

Contributions and Achievements

Theodor’s research and findings in the field of thyroid surgery led to a better understanding of the function and workings of the thyroid gland. His work set the stage for the current treatment method for thyroid issues through thyroid hormone replacement. In recognition of his contributions to medical science, Theodor was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1909. He used the prize money to establish the Kocher Institute in Bern. He also made significant contributions to hemostasis, surgical infectious diseases, acute osteomyelitis, the theory of strangulated hernia, and abdominal surgeries. Several surgical procedures and instruments are named after him, including the Kocher maneuver, Kocher incision, and Kocher’s Surgical Clamp. He also wrote the Text-Book of Operative Surgery, which has been translated into many languages.

Personal Life & Death

Theodor Kocher married Marie Witchi in 1851, and they had three sons together. His eldest son, Albert, became an Assistant Professor of Surgery. Theodor passed away on July 27, 1917, at the age of 75. He died suddenly while working on his papers, having just returned from surgery.

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