General practice in the German Democratic Republic (1949-1990): A discipline between threat and professionalization

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Florian Bruns - , Institute for the History of Medicine (Author)
  • Christian König - , Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (Author)
  • Thomas Frese - , Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (Author)
  • Jan Schildmann - , Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (Author)


BACKGROUND: In the 1950s the socialist health policy in East Germany did not follow a clear-cut course with regard to outpatient medical care. Whilst state-run policlinics gradually took the place of doctors in private practice, the required qualifications of physicians working in outpatient care remained unclear. After preparatory lobbying by committed physicians from the outpatient sector, the 1960 Weimar Health Conference finally paved the way for the preservation and professionalization of general practice in East Germany.

AIM: The article analyzes the formation of general practice as a specialty in East Germany between 1945 and 1990. We scrutinize the status of general practitioners and their field in the socialist health system as well as the foundation of their medical society. Our paper aims to contribute to a broader history of general practice in Germany.

METHODS: We draw on literature from that time, unpublished archival material, and interviews with contemporary witnesses.

RESULTS: After the establishment of standards for specialist training in the early 1960s, general practice was introduced as a field of specialty in 1967. By this, East Germany had a compulsory specialist training in general practice much earlier than West Germany. In 1971, a specialist society for general practice was founded in East Germany. However, institutionalization at the medical faculties was still lacking. Meanwhile, the nationalization of outpatient care continued. In the years that followed, primary medical care was increasingly provided in policlinics. In 1989, of 40,000 physicians in the GDR, only about 340 were still practicing in their own offices.

CONCLUSION: Within the nationalized GDR health system a committed group of physicians, under difficult political circumstances, pushed for professionalization of general practice and its recognition as a field of specialty. When general medicine was recognized as a specialty in 1967, this happened earlier than in other countries and constituted an important milestone.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-51
Number of pages7
JournalWiener klinische Wochenschrift
Volume135 (2023)
Issue number1-2
Early online date26 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

External IDs

Scopus 85141055148
unpaywall 10.1007/s00508-022-02093-0
Mendeley d9534834-023d-3410-89b5-7e13e41eaab5
ORCID /0000-0001-6269-5061/work/142247693


DFG Classification of Subject Areas according to Review Boards

Subject groups, research areas, subject areas according to Destatis

Sustainable Development Goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • East Germany, General practice, History of medicine, Medical societies, Policlinics, Germany, East, Societies, Medical, General Practitioners, Humans, General Practice, Germany

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