Medical Superintendent Cornelia Höß

“Sometimes, operating for me is like meditating“

Being the daughter of a rural veterinarian, Cornelia Höß has been taking care of her three younger sisters’ wounds already during her childhood and youth. At TUM she made one of her dreams come true: micro-surgical training.

From an early age on Cornelia Höß was fascinated by the human body: “I think living beings’ anatomy  and nature in general are beautiful.“ The daughter of a rural veterinarian grew up with three younger sisters and early on was responsible for all smaller assistance jobs and wound care. “I removed countless splinters from the hands of my family members”, Cornelia Höß, now honorary professor at TUM, remembers. Especially this detailed, very concentrated work was incredibly interesting to her. So it was not surprising that she followed her passion and started studying medicine at the University of Regensburg after finishing school and later completed her degree at TUM. Here one of her big dreams came true: “I was able to train in micro-surgical technique at the Institute for Experimental Surgery and to assist Professor Ursula Schmidt-Tintemann, a pioneer in the area of plastic surgery, in the surgery during my studies.”

Having learnt from the best

Before and during her dissertation Cornelia Höß worked for the Institute for Experimental Surgery at Klinikum rechts der Isar and was involved in numerous interesting projects such as microvascular prosthetics, small bowel transplantation and heart valve replacement in rats. “The technique was easy for me and corresponded to my wishes, and I trained the in-house replantation team surgeons”, the committed doctor remembers. Because she worked on fallopian tube surgery on rabbits in her dissertation, she was offered the job to establish micro-surgery in the department for gynaecology and obstetrics even before her practical year had started.

I don’t like authoritarian behaviour.

“That was one of the most difficult decisions of my career”, Cornelia Höß says today. Initially she hadn’t planned on ending up in the gynaecology, because for a long time mainly hysterectomies, that is the complete removal of organs, had been common practice. The young woman was reluctant to do so, since she preferably wanted to keep the patients’ organs and protect the human body it its beauty.

A pioneer in gynaecology

However, gynaecological surgery was in the process of change at that point in time and Cornelia Höß was in the lucky position to do postgraduate studies in London with Professor Robert Winston, one of the fathers of gynaecological micro-surgery. Later on she chose to emphasise on gynaecological oncology and to stay in this area. “I also felt that I was able to speak with suffering patients eye-to-eye because I was used to taking care of my sisters since I was little “, says Cornelia Höß.

Deciding for gynaecology has payed off: after her PhD Cornelia Höß had the opportunity to become the first woman to hold the position of head physician at the Frauenklinik der TUM and to habilitate. In 1998 she became medical superintendent at Kreisklinik Ebersberg, one of TUM’s training hospitals,  at that time the third female one in all of Bavaria. Up until today she is heading the department for gynaecology and obstetrics there. “I didn’t want to miss the chance to lead a team as a medical superintendent and to develop a department in my own style.”

Committed mentor

On top of that the meaningful work as a doctor, the patients’ trust and the profession’s intense efforts remain one of Cornelia Höß’ “most important sources of inner contentment”. She wants to meet her patients eye-to-eye and interact with her students and assistants in an informal way: “I don’t like authoritarian behaviour”. The surgeries, frequently taking several hours, are not a burden for her: “For me performing surgery is like meditating. I am completely immersed in what I am doing and don’t even realize the time passing.”

For many years the medical superintendent has been passing on her professional and private experience in the framework of the TUM Mentoring Programme for Students by Alumni. She has benefited from mentors herself: “Professor Rudolf Ascherl has inspired and motivated me with his broad, scientific interest and allowed me to develop”, Cornelia Höß says. Henner Graeff, the renowned head of Frauenklinik des Klinikums rechts der Isar der TUM, was the first to offer women a chance to prove themselves in a surgical subject and to reach management positions. She also learnt dealing with patients from him: “Class, respect and a modest approach – that was his custom. I am still very grateful for his support.”