Prestigious Award for Professor Hans-Joachim Woitowitz 

by Dr. Brigitte Froneberg



The Paracelsus Medal has been awarded to Professor Dr. Hans-Joachim Woitowitz, for his outstanding contribution to occupational health, his lifetime work on asbestos research and regulation, and his unbending fight for asbestos victims and their right to compensation.

The Paracelsus Medal is the highest distinction bestowed by the German Federal Medical Association, the chamber representing all 400,000 German physicians; among previous recipients are distinguished individuals such as Albert Schweitzer.


Since 1952, the award has been granted annually during the General Medical Assembly to usually three physicians for outstanding academic achievement, for exemplary conduct or for contributions to the medical profession. Hans-Joachim Woitowitz has fulfilled not only one, but all three selection criteria. On May 28, 2013, he received the honor for his clinical and scientific work as well as for his great commitment to occupational and general public health and for his diligent work towards ensuring good professionalism among new generations of occupational physicians.

Hans-Joachim Woitowitz was the chair of the Institute and Out-Patient Clinic for Occupational and Social Medicine of the University of Giessen for nearly 30 years. His main interest was occupational cancer risk, especially the risk from exposure to asbestos. He was one of the first to raise his voice against the uncontrolled and ubiquitous use of asbestos and has significantly contributed to asbestos regulation and compensation practice in Germany through high-level policy advice. He still provides expert opinion on suspected asbestos-related disease to most of the German Social Law Courts and assists asbestos victims in their fight for justice and compensation, often on a pro-bono basis.


Hans-Joachim Woitowitz was born in Allenstein (East Prussia) on October, 18, 1935 and grew up in Saxony and later Westphalia where his family had taken refuge. He attended Medical School in Marburg and Kln. After finishing his doctoral thesis, he followed Helmut Valentin, his scientific teacher at that time, in 1965 to the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg to establish the first German Institute for Occupational and Social Medicine. After board qualification in Internal Medicine in 1969 and subsequently in Occupational Medicine he received the E. W. Baader Award for outstanding scientific work from the German Association for Occupational Medicine. His Habilitation Treatise “Occupational medical and epidemiological investigations of the immediate health risks of Asbestos” was honored in 1971 with the E. W. Baader Award. Work on asbestos became his calling. The intensive research and occupation with the intricacies of asbestos led soon to the recognition of the severe danger to human health of the ubiquitous use of asbestos and helped to elucidate also the more hidden and delayed forms of asbestos-related disease such as the various forms of malignancies in several organs. In 1974, Hans Joachim Woitowitz became Chair of the Institute and Out-Patient Clinic for Occupational and Social Medicine of the University of Giessen and filled the position until his retirement in 2004.

His profound expertise was widely recognized far beyond the world of science. He has served as a key policy advisor, participating and chairing various high-level working groups. He was a full member of the Advisory Board of the Ministry of Labour and Social Order of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1977, and its Chairman from 1991 to 2006. His advice was essential in leading to the German ban on asbestos in 1993 – as head of the Working Group “Establishment of MAK Values for dusts” of the Commission for the Investigation of Health Hazards of Chemical Compounds in the Work Area of the German Scientific Foundation since 1980 and as a member of the Advisory Committee for Hazardous Materials of the Ministry of Labour and Social Order of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1983. Of equal importance was his influence on the regulation of the recognition of occupational disease.

Throughout his career, he was extremely committed to training future generations of occupational physicians through personal teaching, as well as through using his influence to establish an Academy for Occupational Medicine and Social Medicine in Bad Nauheim. His decades-long involvement in modernizing the training curriculum for occupational physicians as President there has been pivotal in ensuring that doctors deal effectively with the changing world of work. He served as a long-standing member of the Permanent Conference of Occupational Medicine of the German Federal Medical Association.

Hans-Joachim Woitowitz was an influential member of the executive board of the German Society for Occupational Medicine from 1991 to 2000. In 1987 he was named an Irving J. Selikoff scholar and was elected a Fellow of the Collegium Ramazzini, New York/Bologna. Additionally, he was a member of the executive board of the Ramazzini Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health Research in Solomons, Washington, USA. He is the author of more than 500 scientific publications.

His untiring commitment was publicly recognized and honored on many occasions: the double decoration with the E. Baader Award was followed by the Federal Cross of Merit, the Ernst-von-Bergmann-Medal of the German Federal Medical Association, the Ramazzini Award of the Collegium Ramazzini 2006 and others.

He has been married to the physician Dr. Rotraud Helga Woitowitz for 54 years and has two daughters and three grandchildren.

July 10, 2013



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