In 1797, Professor Evert Jan Thomassen à Thuessink decided on Groningen’s Green Orphanage, in a former Jacobin monastery on Oude Ebbingestraat, as a suitable location for a small teaching hospital. Who was this professor with his thoroughly Dutch first name and distinguished-sounding last name? What was his motivation?
Evert Jan Thomassen à Thuessink was born on 6 August 1762 in Zwolle as the son of the city’s mayor. It was soon apparent that he was extraordinarily gifted. At the age of twelve he entered university to study philosophy and medicine. Eight years later, at not quite 20 years of age, he graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy. He was immediately appointed as an Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy in Franeker, which also housed a university at the time. Evert Jan Thomassen à Thuessink had other plans, however.
In 1783 he left to continue his studies in Leiden. At 23, he gained a PhD in Medicine there. Possessed of a curious and inquisitive turn of mind, he made study trips to then-faraway places such as Paris, London and Edinburgh. He learned as much as he could from the famous doctors at the great hospitals there. A few years later, replete with new medical knowledge and experiences, he returned to the Netherlands. He began work as a general practitioner, first in his birthplace Zwolle and later in The Hague. Thanks to the wealth of medical knowledge he had gained, his reputation grew and he was kept busy in both places.
While treating patients, Thomassen à Thuessink also maintained an interest in research and the latest developments. He therefore accepted a professorship at University of Groningen in 1794. With the city’s and province’s support, he founded the ‘Nosocomium Academium' three years later. Publications on infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, measles, yellow fever, cholera, smallpox and ‘Groningen disease’, which killed off 10 percent of Groningen’s population in 1826, earned him many accolades, even far beyond Dutch borders. And in his new position as Professor Medica Clinicea, Evert Jan Thomassen à Thuessink could finally pursue all his dreams at once - treating patients, researching new methods of treatment and teaching students.