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Peter J Koehler MD PhD, Sr. Associate Editor for General Neurology

In this installment of our Featured Contributor series, we’re delighted to present a Q&A with one of our international editors, Dr. Peter Koehler, who serves as Sr. Associate Editor for MedLink Neurology’s General Neurology subspecialty. Dr. Koehler is a general neurologist with a special interest in neuro-oncology and headache as well as the history of neurology. He also serves as a member of the Executive Board of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, Chair of the Special Group of the History of the Neurosciences of the World Federation of Neurology, History Section Editor of Cephalalgia, and a member of the Editorial Board of European Neurology and Neurological Research and Practice.

In 2019, Dr. Koehler retired from clinical practice but is still affiliated with the Faculty of Health, Medicine, and Life Sciences at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, where he teaches History of the Neurosciences.

Dr. Koehler’s biography and publications

Q & A

Tell us about your early background.

My father was a market gardener near The Hague, Netherlands, which is the city where I grew up and went to primary and secondary school. His profession and the fact that I helped him at my leisure were probably why I first chose to go to Wageningen University (at the time Agricultural Institute). Although I enjoyed studying there, the continuation of basic mathematics, physics, and chemistry influenced my decision to switch to the Medical School at Leiden University the following year. The fact that my mother had been a nurse during WWII may also have played a role. As I was exempted from a number of courses at Medical School, I started working as a nursing aide at a general hospital in The Hague. I continued doing so during holidays and weekends until I received my MD in 1981. While at Medical School, I did two optional trainings, notably in anesthesiology (Leyenburg Hospital, The Hague) and pathology (Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem).

Neurology training

Following a year of (compulsory) military service, where I acquired experience in forensic psychiatry, I started my neurology training in 1982, including a year of psychiatry, which was mandatory at the time. This was followed by 3 years of neurology at a nonacademic training hospital--in fact, the one mentioned above--where I also worked as a nursing aide and did all my internships. My choice for neurology was made during my internship there as I was attracted by the atmosphere. The mentor who inspired me was Dr. LJ Endtz (1926 to 1989). He also helped me choose the subject for my dissertation in the history of medicine. Initially guided by Prof. D de Moulin (1919 to 2002), I started working on my PhD-dissertation, The Localization Concept in the Neurology of Brown-Séquard, during my training period. I defended it at the University of Nijmegen in 1989. The early death of my mentor, Endtz, and of my promotor Prof. B Schulte (1928 to 1991), both of whom were active in the history of neurology in the Netherlands, made me decide to continue spending part of my leisure activities in the history of the neurosciences.

Neurologist at a non-academic training hospital

In 1988, I moved to Heerlen, in the south of the Netherlands, and started working at a large nonacademic training hospital, where we trained neurologists independently and received students from Maastricht University. Moreover, we were able to do research, usually in cooperation with universities elsewhere. Working as a general neurologist, I chose two subspecializations, notably neuro-oncology and headache. Furthermore, I was invited to become a board member of the Netherlands Society of Neurology (1995 to 2003, including chairmanship from 1999 to 2003). From 2003 to 2010, I was editor of the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde [Netherlands Journal of Medicine].

History of the Neurosciences

In the meantime, I cooperated in research in neuro-oncology as well as headache and wrote articles, about half of which focused on the history of neurology. I was a co-promotor or member of promotion committees for several PhD dissertations at various universities (including Vilnius, Lithuania). I started a working group on the history of neurology within the Netherlands Society of Neurology (1994) and was co-founder of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN, Montreal, 1995). In 1997, in cooperation with Stanley Finger (Washington University, St. Louis), I took over the editorship of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences from Frank Clifford Rose (1926 to 2012), who founded the journal in 1992. I became a member of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) as well as its History Section, which I chaired from 2009 to 2011. Furthermore, I led the Oral History Work Group (2010 to 2016).

As most significant career achievements, I consider the Gerrit Arie Lindeboom Award (Historia Medicinae Foundation, Netherlands, 1989), the Lawrence C. McHenry Award of the American Academy of Neurology “given in recognition of your outstanding achievements in history research” (2006), the Lifetime Achievement to the History of the Neurosciences Award (International Society for the History of the Neurosciences, Rome, 2022), and receipt of the certificate of appreciation “in recognition of exceptional dedication of the ADMA” (Anglo-Dutch Migraine Association).

See also

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