Originally, the student J.F. Dieffenbach studied theology at the universities at Rostock and Greifswald, and medicine at the Albertina university in Königsberg. From 1813 to 1815, he volunteered as a soldier in the Befreiungskriege (Napoleonic Wars) as a Jäger. In 1818, he participated in student politics at Jena, which activity impelled his leaving Königsberg in 1820. In 1822, he became doctor of medicine in Würzburg and worked as a surgeon in Berlin. In 1824, he married Johanna Motherby. In 1832, he became professor at the university of Berlin, and in 1840 became director of the Clinical Institute for Surgery at Charité Hospital. After his death in 1847, Bernhard von Langenbeck (1810–1887) replaced Dieffenbach as director of surgery.
Awarded by the Vereinigung der Deutschen Plastischen Chirurgen (Association of German Plastic Surgeons), the Dieffenbach Medal was created by artist Fritz Becker. It was awarded for the first time in 1989 during the 20th annual meeting.