Lives of the fellows

Lars Albert Werkö

b.13 March 1918 d.8 October 2009
MD Karolinska(1943) PhD(1947) FRCP(1975)

Lars Werkö was professor of medicine at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He was born in Karlskrona, a small city in south east Sweden, the son of Albert Nilsson Werkö, a merchant. He studied medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, gaining his MD degree in 1943.

In 1946, he went to the Bellevue Hospital in New York, to work with André Cournand, who had organised a modern heart catheterisation laboratory, and quickly learned the technique. At this point catheterisation was a very important means of evaluating heart (and lung) function in various rheumatic and other heart diseases.

In 1947, Werkö returned to Sweden and received his PhD in the same year. His doctoral thesis concerned pressures in different regions of the lung circulation during high pressure ventilation. He also detected the ‘pulmonary wedge pressure’, a method of estimating the left atrial pressure, which had important clinical implications for the evaluation of patients with various heart diseases. His years in Stockholm were productive, largely circulating around the cardiac laboratory.

In 1957 Werkö became professor of medicine at Gothenburg, as well as head of the department of medicine at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital. His 20 years there marked the beginnings of modern medicine in Gothenburg, and the department became a popular training clinic. New diagnostic methods, treatments and drugs were introduced, and the scientific activities were of a high international standard.

Werkö was greatly esteemed as a lecturer and he seemed to be naturally gifted as chief of the department. During these years around 30 doctors defended their PhD theses, and 100 peer review papers were published. He actively took part in the care of patients and started special clinics for patients following myocardial infarction and with high blood pressure. In addition, he supported epidemiological studies as well as studies of patient groups with mitral valvular disease and myocardial infarction.

After his 20 years as a department head, he moved to the pharmaceutical industry, to Astra, where he stayed until his retirement at 65. He then had a very active period as chairman of the Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Healthcare (from 1987 to 1997), maintaining his involvement until his death at the age of 91. He developed methods for the assessment of various interventions and published a long series of important reports.

Werkö was chairman of the Swedish Association of Physicians from 1962 to 1966, chairman of the Gothenburg Medical Association from 1967 to 1975, and was dean of the medical faculty of the University of Gothenburg from 1974 to 1976. He was also a member of many international bodies, and was an adviser to the World Health Organization.

Werkö was also interested in Swedish and English literature, and had a large private library where medical texts were forbidden. He published his autobiography in 2000, which effectively reviewed Swedish medicine from 1930 to 2000. During his long career, Lars Werkö was, without question, extremely influential and had an important impact on Swedish medicine.

Lars Wilhelmsen

(Volume XII, page web)

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