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Year : 2009  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 417

Mosaic of Obituaries for a Pioneer in 21 st Century Enlightenment in Medical Education: Professor Dr. med. Dr.h.c. Dieter Scheffner (23.03.1930 - 24.06.2009)

University of London Institute of Education, School of Lifelong Learning and International Development, United Kingdom

Date of Web Publication8-Jan-2013

Correspondence Address:
C Engel
University of London Institute of Education, School of Lifelong Learning and International Development
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

How to cite this article:
Engel C. Mosaic of Obituaries for a Pioneer in 21 st Century Enlightenment in Medical Education: Professor Dr. med. Dr.h.c. Dieter Scheffner (23.03.1930 - 24.06.2009). Educ Health 2009;22:417

How to cite this URL:
Engel C. Mosaic of Obituaries for a Pioneer in 21 st Century Enlightenment in Medical Education: Professor Dr. med. Dr.h.c. Dieter Scheffner (23.03.1930 - 24.06.2009). Educ Health [serial online] 2009 [cited 2022 Jan 19];22:417. Available from:

Professor Dr. Joachim. W. Dudenhausen

Former Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

With great sadness, we acknowledge the death of Prof. Dr. med. Dr.h.c. Dieter Scheffner. He made outstanding contributions to medical education within Germany. He initiated, together with a group of medical students, a reform curriculum of medical education in Berlin in 1989. During the following nineteen years, Professor Scheffner was the driving force for the development of a student-centred curriculum at the Charité, Humboldt University in Berlin. Despite considerable resistance from within the Faculty, the reform curriculum was started with 63 students as a parallel curriculum in 1999. This represented a paradigm shift in medical education within Germany at the beginning of the 21st Century. With gentle persistence he supported the growth of the Berlin reform curriculum in the face of financial and administrative difficulties. Internationally he promoted networking with innovative medical educators in other countries. The death of Dieter Scheffner leaves a great gap. However, his great stimuli will keep him alive as a fellow-traveller for his colleagues and his many friends.

Professor Dr. Cornelius Frömmel

Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Chairman of the Board of Directors, University of Göttingen, Germany

To become involved in the Berlin reform curriculum was for me like a fairy tale: I was once upon a time a Professor of Biochemistry at the Charité in Berlin, dreaming in 1994 about a new, modern medical education in Germany. At that time, as Vice Dean of Research, I had a small amount of money. This helped to support the concepts of a new medical curriculum, the Berlin Reform Curriculum for medical education. The concept of the Berlin Reform curriculum was developed by a group headed by Dieter Scheffner. At a first glance I was shocked. This represented a totally new concept which challenged the traditional version of medical education in Germany. To me, 15 years ago, it seemed an evil concept. On second thought it looked impossible. But then, my scientific education as an experimentalist made me think: 'let's try it, it will fail!' From the outset I became involved in the 'Reformstudiengang' with responsibility for two modules (cardiology and metabolism/gastroenterology). I am now happy and proud to have been involved, and thank Dieter Scheffner who gave me a second life as professor.

Professor Dr. Walter Burger

Paediatrics and Head Reformstudiengang, Faculty of Medicine, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

Professor Dieter Scheffner has been a longstanding colleague and friend for important years of my life. I got to know him during our collaboration as paediatricians in the Children's Hospital of the Free University in Berlin. He was a highly specialized expert in paediatric neurology but represented Paediatrics as a whole. His humanistic patient-centred approach was very impressive for me as a younger colleague. Our collaboration intensified when he became the dean of the medical faculty at the Free University of Berlin and actively supported the suggestion of medical students for a fundamental reform of medical education. It was a striking experience to see how he conducted the process of implementation of an integrated, student- and patient-centred curriculum despite significant resistance and legal restrictions. His unique ability to combine holistic visions about education and medicine with skills for diplomatic negotiations was the basis for the first integrated medical curriculum in Germany. His death is a sad loss for the current endeavour of innovation in medical education and to all who had the pleasure of knowing him personally.

Dr. Kai Schnabel

Former Head of Skills Laboratory and Head, Reformstudiengang, Faculty of Medicine, Humboldt University, Berlin,


Now Head of the Abteilung für Unterricht und Medien, Institute für Medizinische Lehre, University Bern, Switzerland

Dieter Scheffner was a leader over so many years. As the former dean and chairman of the Reformstudiengang Medicine working group, he continued to provide essential impetus and support as a wise, senior chief throughout the past two decades. He contributed from his broad background to the political context of our work in his polite, honest, sometimes very emotional but always friendly way. He gave me and every member of the working group the feeling of being very important in the process of reforming the medical educational system in Germany, especially in Berlin. His heart was with the students, and his door was always open to respond to problems, as well as to each of us individually. He never hesitated to defend our aims and each of us in the group. He was an outstanding role model. I am glad and privileged for the opportunity to spend so much time with him over the years. I will miss Professor Dieter Scheffner.

Dr. Claudia Kiessling

Former Head of the Reformstudiengang, Faculty of Medicine, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany;

Now Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, Studiendekanat Medizin, University Basel, Switzerland

In 1988, when I was a in my second year as a medical student, German students went on strike to demonstrate for better study conditions and greater student participation at university. Those three months of intensive discussions had a significant impact on my personal and professional development. One of the most impressive persons I met during that time was Dieter Scheffner. He was Professor and Dean, yet he was willing to listen and talk to us students. He took our concerns seriously and started the reform of medical education in Berlin - together with us students. Ten years later, we were able to welcome the first students into a problem-based and fully integrated reformed medical curriculum.Dieter Scheffner was the backbone of this educational reform. He was a superb political strategist, who was able to establish and maintain change. He supported all who needed help or just an open ear. He was our role model for openness, curiosity and integrity. Dieter Scheffner guided me with his patience and his advice for half of my life. I will always miss him.

Professor Scott Obenshain

Former Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Ross University, New Mexico, USA;

Member, International Advisory Board for the Reformed Curriculum, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

Dieter was such a special person and played such an important role in getting faculties in Germany to at least think about how future physicians should be educated. His skills as a leader, visionary and politician were unsurpassed along with incredible patience to get the Reformed Curriculum up and running. His last words (see his letter below) are very sad from the perspective of his recognition that all the work he had done, his love for students and the excellence in the programme he started, were under threat. The faculty could not see the incredible opportunity they had to be leaders in education, not only nationally for the German speaking world but also internationally, had they only been willing to adopt and expand the results of the 20-plus years of effort put in by Dieter and the many students, faculty and others who had joined him in this effort. Professor Scheffner's commitment and ability to listen to students and understand what students were saying during their strike in the late 80s, when he was Dean of one of the Faculties of Medicine of the Free University of Berlin, gave the students the courage to continue their efforts to make improvements in their own education. Dieter kept the faith as the four medical faculties were combined into one in 1995, when the Vice-Chancellor of the Charité essentially said‚ thank you for this curriculum we don't want and can't afford. Dieter persisted and with the change in government was able to get an exception to the licensure law, so that students in the Reformed Curriculum would be able to learn in a new and exciting way, i.e. problem-based learning. On his retirement, Dieter was given a special appointment which allowed him to continue his leadership role in the Reform Group and Curriculum. His commitment, insight and foresight will be greatly missed by all his friends all over the world. A great many of them are students for whom Dieter provided the support that allowed them to become not only physicians, but competent medical educators who are serving the cause of education all over the German-speaking world.

Professor Cees van der Vleuten

Head, Department of Educational Development and Research, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands;

Member, International Advisory Board for the Reformed Curriculum, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

A passionate educator has passed away. A pioneer and perhaps even a soldier in his work to change long established education structures. Regardless of the circumstances, political hindrances or personal gain, Dieter Scheffner introduced student-centered education and made it work in Berlin. He has paved the way for many other German schools to follow. We will miss his relentless passion for improving undergraduate medical education. We hope his work will yet prevail, but we will have to succeed without him from here on.

Emeritus Professor of Physiology Ann Sefton

Deputy Chancellor, Sydney University, Australia;

Member, International Advisory Board for the Reformed Curriculum, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

I was saddened to hear of the death of Dieter Scheffner. I met him as a member of the group reviewing the medical curriculum at the Charité, Humboldt University, Berlin. I found him to be highly intelligent, unfailingly kind, supportive and thoughtful, with a keen understanding of the complexity of the educational process. It was a privilege to share ideas with him. His vision was to introduce modern educational methods that had been successfully applied elsewhere in different parts of the world. Unfortunately, while he had significant support from some staff and many students, not all were persuaded. During the review, participating in lively discussions, Dieter showed himself to be an exceptionally thoughtful and clear-thinking educational leader and wonderful host to the visiting group. I particularly appreciated his personal kindness during and after the meetings when he and his wife introduced me to some of the cultural richness of Berlin.

Professor Charles Engel

Former Foundation Head, Division of Medical Education and Evaluation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Newcastle, Australia;

Member, International Advisory Board for the Reformed Curriculum, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

I had recently returned to London after ten splendid years of participating in the development of the first problem-based learning medical curriculum in the Southern Hemisphere. The student strike in Continental Europe had recently been used by medical students in Berlin to begin to explore problem-based learning with their Dean, Professor Dieter Scheffner. For me this was the beginning of a privileged friendship and collaboration in the exploration of the difference between starting a new curriculum and striving to change from a well-established, conventional curriculum to an as yet strange and thus threatening quite new curriculum. There was also the challenge of change in a different legal environment - not within the 'Common Law' but in the context of the 'Roman Law'. Though we did try to foster growing familiarity with new ideas and the novelty of active student learning, time constraints counselled in favour of concentrating on curriculum design and development. The creation of the International Advisory Board did lend a measure of credibility, but local politics, administrative challenges and financial constraints have appeared to create barriers which have yet to be overcome. Perhaps the sizeable correspondence between Dieter Scheffner and members of the Advisory Board may yield useful lessons in relation to change in medical education, if and when an international archive for the history of medical and health sciences education can be established. We have lost a great friend and one of the giants among the pioneers of Twentieth Century medical educators.

The following communication was received from Professor Scheffner's son, with the letter that was dictated by Professor

Scheffner to his son just a few hours before Dieter Scheffner died:

Dear Friends and Advisors of the reform medical track at Charité Berlin, yesterday, on June 24th, 2009, at 6.30 PM Dieter Scheffner passed away in Berlin. Only three hours after he dictated us the following letter, in English. The perfectionist he was, he wanted to read it again today, and make his corrections. However, we decided to send it to you as it is - his last reflections on the vision he believed in, and which will remain beyond his death

With kind regards,

Philip Scheffner and Merle Kröger

To all participants who advised us nationally and internationally about our ways to go and provide international criticism as to meet the international standard:

My personal breath is short because of a chronicle lung fibrosis, and I am oxygen dependent day and night. Before saying good bye to you, and thanking you again for your continual help and friendship, I want to state the following: To my mind the quality of the reform medical track at the Charité actually is deteriorating. This is the consequence of the ongoing loss of experienced staff: I only mention Dr. med. Kai Schnabel who took over perspective position at the University of Bern, likewise Claudia Kiessling at Bale University, and Sebastian Schubert at the University Witten/ Herdecke. And so many more were deferred from doing qualitative management according to their experiences as previously, because they had extra duties and obligations. As long as the quality management boards take over as a whole responsibility for a new curriculum and concentrate on its content modes, assessment and resources, it will never become part of their desired curriculum. They will not feel obliged to their goals.

Warmest regards to all of you,


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