Heurne, Jan Van (or Johannes Heurnius)

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Heurne, Jan Van (or Johannes Heurnius)

(b. Utrecht, Netherlands, 1543; d. Leiden, Netherlands, 1601)


Van Heurne studied medicine at Louvain and spent considerable time in Paris, where he became interested in surgery. In 1567 he traveled to Padua, the most famous center of medical education in Europe since Battista da Monte (Montanus) had introduced the teaching of medical students at the bedside. Van Heurne graduated there in 1571, returned to the Netherlands, and for twelve years practiced medicine at Utrecht.

In 1581 he was appointed professor of medicine at the University of Leiden. From the data available in the literature it appears that his lectures consisted mainly of reading from the books of Hippocrates and Galen. He made no outstanding contribution to medicine. Nevertheless his name is still mentioned, for evidently, influenced by his education in Padua, he was the first to seek to introduce bedside teaching in northern Europe.

On 4 December 1591, in the name of the medical faculty, van Heurne asked the curators of the university to make bedside teaching available to the students at Leiden. The curators delayed their response and van Heurne, a modest man, did not dare remind his superiors that he had proposed a revolutionary but necessary reorganization of the medical school curriculum. The only surviving record of his efforts is found in the archives of the University of Leiden in the form of the curators’ resolution “to consider in another week the proposal of Professor van Heurne.”

Forty-five years later, in 1636, Otto van Heurne, who had succeeded his father as professor of medicine at Leiden, was instructed to start teaching at the bedside.


A complete list of van Heurne’s books is in Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General’s Office, VI (Washington, D.C., 1885), 194.

Secondary literature includes J. A. J. Barge, “Het Geneeskundig Onderwijs aan de Leidsche Universiteit in de 18° Eeuw,” in Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis der geneeskunde, 14 (1934), 4; A. Castiglione, Memoralia Herman Boerhaave optimi medici (Haarlem, 1939), in Italian; J. Kroon, “Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis van het geneeskundig onderwys aan de Leidsche Universiteit (1575–1625)” (Leiden, 1911), M.D. thesis; G. A. Lindeboom, Herman Boerhaave, the Man and His Work (London, 1968), p. 284; and I. Snapper, Meditations on Medicine and Medical Education, Past and Present (New York-London, 1956).

I. Snapper