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Arvid Henrik Florman

A true renaissance man with a wide field of research

Arvid Henrik Florman's (1761-1840) contributions to the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University and to Swedish medicine in general are numerous and greatly significant. In fact, he is recognized as having integrated the practical disciplines of surgery and anatomy into medicine. He is also regarded as Sweden's first anthropologist and an important early forensic scientist.

About biliary fever in the navy 

Florman was born in Tosterup in the county of Skåne in Sweden in 1761. His early studies at Lund University focused on comparative anatomy and were performed under the guidance of Anders Jahan Retzius. Following the recommendation of Retzius, Florman continued studies in veterinary medicine in Copenhagen, Denmark under the mentorship of Professor Abildgaard. While there, he became docent in Lund, and upon his return to Lund in 1797 he was named prosector in Anatomy (i.e. one that makes dissections for anatomic demonstrations).

In 1790, at the age of 29 years, he defended his doctoral dissertation titled "De febre biliosa anno 1788 nautas afficiente" or "About biliary fever in the navy 1788". The thesis work was based to a considerable extent on personal experiences since he had treated many sailors with this disease while in the navy and having himself been afflicted with the disease. In 1801, Florman became professor of Anatomy and Surgery in Lund.

Personal Practice and Experience

Florman's thought that personal practice and experience are critical components in medicine may be traced to his early interest in comparative biology and to the mentorship of Abildgaard, who emphasized that speculations and assumptions should be avoided and personal and factual observations encouraged. Florman took Abildgaard's advice to heart and became responsible for integrating the disciplines of anatomy and surgery in medical education and practice. He collected a substantial number of medical specimens for teaching purposes and for his museum, and these are catalogued in his book Thesaurus anatomicus. Furthermore, he acquired much of the surgical equipment to the anatomical theatre originally established by Döbelius. In Florman's Anatomisk handbok, many of his thoughts on integration of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and clinic are presented, and the book was used at all the medical teaching institutions in Sweden.

Florman taught veterinary medicine to some degree as well. Despite great resistance from the faculty at large, he was able to acquire facilities for a program in veterinary medicine in 1791. However, the program was never established and the facilities were left to decline until the hospital acquired them in 1814 and converted them into the first specialty clinic in Lund, which was assigned to venereal diseases. However, Florman's original personal architectural layout was kept essentially unaltered.

Forensic expert 

Florman's commission to analyze the skeleton of Andreas Sunesen, who became archbishop in Lund in 1201, after it was exhumed from his tomb in Lund's Cathedral was probably due to his additional expertise in anthropology. Indeed, rumor had it that Sunesen retired from his clerical duties because having attracted leprosy. Even though Florman observed skeletal abnormalities on Sunesen's tibia and fibula, these were determined to be scars of a healed fracture. The same conclusions were drawn by pathologist Einar Sjövall and orthopedic surgeon Gunnar Frising almost a century later. Presumably for the same reason, he was recruited as a forensic expert in the autopsy of the Swedish Crown Prince Carl August, who suddenly died while inspecting his troops in 1810. It was concluded that the prince had suffered an intracranial bleeding during his riding, silencing rumors of homicide as the cause. Interestingly, the prince's death led to the invitation of the French general Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to become Crown Prince of Sweden and subsequently King Carl XIV Johan. The Bernadottes remain the royal family in Sweden today.

Care for the patients 

Florman's great concern and care for the individual patient was reflected in the daily visits to the poor house that he made during many years and the medication for the old crippled patients that he personally paid for. In 1820, as a member of the hospital board of directors, Florman was charged with improving various aspects of running of the hospital clinic including the patient's food menu. He reported in 1821 that he had tested every dish on the menu in his own kitchen and approved of every single ingredient. He subsequently authored a report titled "Förslag till befrämjande af renlighet och snygghet samt god ordning inom Lazarettet" or "Suggestions for the promotion of cleanliness as well as good order in the hospital", where he emphasized cleanliness over patient numbers. Most likely, this effort had major impact on the number infections that occurred among the patients.

Florman died unmarried 1840, retired since 1828, and professor emeritus since 1831. He is clearly remembered as great organizer and contributor to the Faculty of Medicine.

Text: Hülya Leeb-Lundberg


Portrait Arvid Henrik Florman. Painting.

Arvid Henrik Florman