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Until 2006, there were two societies in Germany that dealt with the scientific aspects of spine problems:
1. The German Society for Spine Surgery (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Wirbelsäulenchirurgie)
2. The Society for Spine Research (Gesellschaft für Wirbelsäulenforschung).
The German Society for Spine Surgery (DGW) was founded on 4 June 1987 in Hamburg as an association of surgeons, trauma surgeons, orthopaedists, neurosurgeons and other persons working in hospitals and research in the field of spine medicine.
The purpose was to develop and enhance the depth of clinical and scientific research in the field of spine surgery. The members of the society had the task of promoting experimental and clinical research in these fields by exchanging and imparting their own knowledge and experience.
The Society for Spine Research was founded much earlier, on 5 July 1958 in Frankfurt, to promote the interdisciplinary examination of spinal problems. Annual meetings, regular workshops and the publication of the journal “Wirbelsäule in Forschung und Praxis” (“The Spine in Research and Practice”) demonstrated the society’s commitment.
In addition, outstanding scientific work was rewarded with the Georg Schmorl Prize. Distinguished spine researchers were awarded the Junghanns Memorial Lectureship.
From 1990, overlapping topics and content led to efforts to unify both societies so that their forces could be combined. However, though the idea was a good one, it could not be implemented at that time due to the degree of resistance encountered.
Finally, in 2003 Prof. Carstens was elected President of the Society for Spine Research. At the crucial General Meeting, he was given the express mandate to re-establish contact with the German Society for Spine Surgery with the aim of initiating discussions on the possible unification of the two societies.
The changes at the European level, too, with the emergence of “Spine Societies” in many countries around the world, as well as a “Spine Society of Europe”, showed the need for a review of previous deliberations.
The relationship of personal trust between the Presidents of the two professional societies, Prof. Carstens and Prof. Mayer, and the excellent collaboration of the Board members of the two societies were no less indispensable to the realisation of the German Spine Society project.
After extensive negotiation an agreement was reached on a common set of Statutes, drawn up by Prof. Carstens and Prof. Wilke, then Secretary-General of the DGW. In formal terms, the unification was made possible by the dissolution of the Society for Spine Research in 2005 and its recommendation to its members to join the German Society for Spine Surgery.
The latter, in turn, resolved at its 2006 annual meeting in Munich to change its name to “Deutsche Wirbelsäulengesellschaft (DWG)” (“German Spine Society”). Prof. H. Michael Mayer of Munich, the last President of the German Society for Spine Surgery, became the first President of the DWG. In 2007, Prof. Claus Carstens became the second President.
The need for the two societies to merge and the associated freeing of obvious potential are clear from the following figures. The annual meetings of the Society for Spine Research received around 50 attendees, and those of the German Society for Spine Surgery around 350. The inaugural conference of the DWG in Munich in 2006, in contrast, recorded some 747 attendees; in Mannheim in 2007 the figure was 819; in Ulm in 2008 it was as high as 1,025; Munich 2009, 1,291; Bremen 2010, 1,303; Hamburg, 1,427 attendees; Stuttgart, 1,491, and in Frankfurt 2013 it was 1,609 attendees.
In that time, DWG has become the largest specialist spine society in Europe. It is the interdisciplinary forum for basic researchers and those working in conservative and surgical treatment in Germany. The society had 1,250 members at the end of 2012 and the number of new members is increasing every year; these new members are mainly neurosurgeons, trauma surgeons and orthopaedists. The success story described here will continue and, retrospectively, demonstrates that the decisions made in 2005–2006 were the right ones.
Prof. Claus Carstens, Baden-Baden
Prof. Hans-Joachim Wilke, Ulm