History of ISPM

In comparison with its neighbouring countries, the academic foundation of public health in Switzerland began rather early, but then, it was based on an even longer history in the Anglo-Saxon countries, in particular the United Sates and England.

Emer. Professor, Theodor Abelin, MD. MPH, Director of the Institute, 1971 to 2000
Emer. Professor, Theodor Abelin, MD. MPH, Director of the Institute, 1971 to 2000

The development started in the Nineteen-Fifties and Sixties, when some physicians from Switzerland sought graduate education in “Public Health” in North America or England – mostly at their own initiative and on their own means, and this brought them into contact with modern epidemiology of non-infectious diseases and modern concepts of public health. Subsequently, the Swiss National Science Foundation offered stipends for studies abroad leading to a Master’s degree in Public Health, with the result that Switzerland disposed of about 60 trained public health professionals, even before the country’s own training programme in public health was established in the early Nineteen-Nineties.

A pioneer was Meinrad Schär, who toward the end of the Nineteen-Fifties, as Vice Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (BAG), returned from the USA as an MPH graduate and soon obtained a teaching position at the University of Zürich. In the early Nineteen-Sixties he joined with Hans-Peter Tschudi, the then Director of the Federal Department of the Interior (Swiss Minister of the Interior) to prepare a directive through which Social and Preventive Medicine was introduced as a new discipline into the federally regulated Medical Examinations. The grade given was the average of a grade in Occupational and Insurance Medicine (Tschudi was a University Professor of Labour Law) and the “other contents”, which at that time, were still hardly defined. The decisive vote in the Federal Council (Federal government) was in 1964, and the Medical Faculties had to hold the first examinations in this discipline in 1968. In view of this new task, new institutes were established by the Medical Faculties of the Universities of Zürich, Lausanne and Geneva. In Basel, a division of Social and Preventive Medicine was created within the School Health Services, lead by their director, whereas the Medical Faculty in Berne invited Meinrad Schär to provide the teaching as a preliminary solution, while building up his Institute in Zürich.

My assumption of office as head of the ISPM followed in April 1971, following a decision of the Cantonal government of December 1970 to establish this new Institute.