Doctors on the Front Line: The History and Contributions of Famous Medics During the Wars

  • Authors: Sainikova A.D.1, Nenachov I.2
  • Affiliations:
    1. Voronezh State Medical University named N.N. Burdenko
    2. Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N.Burdenko
  • Pages: 176-179
  • URL:

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This article describes the extraordinary role of physicians and scientists in times of war. Wartime presents a particularly difficult challenge for physicians, who not only work at their best, but also face enormous ethical and moral dilemmas. While famous military leaders and heroic soldiers are often the protagonists in war stories, physicians and medical professionals who have saved and treated thousands of lives often remain in the shadows.
This article examines the contributions of prominent doctors and scientists to World Wars I and II. Without the contributions of these men, victory would not have been possible. The article details their innovative treatments, experience, and knowledge, which contributed to the development of medicine and helped save many lives.

Full Text

Russian historical memory tends to pay special attention to the Great Patriotic War, while World War I is also noteworthy. World War I began on August 1, 1914, and ended on November 11, 1918, involving 38 nations. It was triggered by the events that took place in Sarajevo, where Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand of the Young Bosnia movement, murdered the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This event caused a great resonance and served as a pretext for the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia.
World War I revealed the potential of Vasily Pavlovich Kravkov, who had long served as a hospital doctor in the Russian Imperial Army and then retired with the rank of privy councilor, corresponding to the rank of lieutenant general [10].
Kravkov coordinated the work of evacuation points, infirmaries, and hospitals of the military department and the Red Cross, and paid special attention to the prevention of infectious diseases in the troops. He suggested improvements in methods of treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, including the condition of drinking water sources and isolation of patients with typhus and typhoid fever. This was a tremendous advance at the time.
In the summer of 1915, the threat of a cholera epidemic arose, which led Kravkov to propose to strengthen disinfection measures and to prevent the consumption of raw fruit and water. In addition, he proposed to create and equip isolation rooms and use special wagons to transport cholera patients with a stock of necessary disinfectants.
Nikolay Nikolovich Burdenko. One of the participants of the First World War, whose name our University bears, was Nikolai Nilovich Burdenko. The future famous surgeon was born in 1876 in the family of a country clerk in Penza region. Initially, he went to a theological seminary in St. Petersburg, but then he changed his mind and decided to become a doctor. However, this desire was not given to him easily. At first he was forced to leave Tomsk because of his participation in a strike. Two years later, in 1899, Burdenko was reinstated, but then in 1901 he was again accused of subversion and expelled from the university. He eventually worked with tuberculosis children in a colony and was able to go to university in the Baltics.
It is worth noting that Nikolai Nilovich always wanted to help the wounded in the wars, so when the Russian-Japanese War broke out, he became a volunteer assistant. He was first contused while under the enemy's barrage of fire at the Battle of Wafangou, but did not escape from the battlefield.

On August 25, 1914, the Ministry of Public Education issued an official permission for Nikolay N. Burdenko to work as a surgeon in the theater of military operations. Already on September 2 of the same year N. N. Burdenko began working at the Head department of the Russian Red Cross Society and was appointed assistant chief of medical service in the armies of the North-Western Front. After that Nikolay Nilovich went on a business trip to the city of Vilna, where he had to organize dressing-evacuation points [8].
In January 1915 Nikolay Nilovich Burdenko made a report at the meeting of field surgeons of the North-Western Front armies, devoted to the operations in transporting the wounded to the stomach [3]. Subsequently, Burdenko worked as a consultant surgeon in the Red Cross and performed operations at the Vilna Hospital.
In February 1916, Professor Burdenko submitted his paper on the need to introduce tetanus vaccinations for all wounded with contaminated wounds to the Red Cross administration. Later, at a meeting of the medical committee, he reported that modern battles, accompanied by a high percentage of wounded by artillery shells, result in an extremely high number of cases of tetanus. Thus, he once again stressed the importance of prevention of this disease.
Throughout this time Nikolay N. Burdenko faced the problems of the military bureaucracy of the Russian Empire, and this struggle continued until the revolution of 1917 [7].
After N.N. Burdenko's appointment as the Chief Military Sanitary Inspector, he became actively involved in several areas of activity, including the organization of the sanitary service, military medical statistics, and the staffing of the military medical service. At the same time, the professor drew the attention of the government to the need to provide qualified assistance to the wounded, as well as the importance of preventing the spread of venereal diseases and combating tetanus and poison gas attacks [1].
Nikolai Alexandrovich Veliaminov. Nikolai Alexandrovich Veliaminov was an outstanding physician and scientist, whose contribution to the development of medicine and medical practice remains significant to this day. He participated in military actions within the framework of the Russian-Turkish war and worked for a long time in the hospitals of the acting army. As a result of his experience and research Veliaminov wrote the book "In defense of antiseptics in the treatment of gunshot wounds in war", which is still considered relevant.
Moreover, Nikolai Alexandrovich formulated a project on first aid to the population, which became the basis of the modern medical care system (SOC). He also described esophageal fibroma and proposed a method of vaginal access for surgeries on the rectum in women. An important achievement of Veliaminov was the division of arthropathies on the basis of etiological principles, which became the first classification of this disease in the world.
In addition, Nikolai Alexandrovich introduced antiseptic methods into army medical practice, improved first aid rendering and created an individual dressing bag, which made it possible to reduce mortality among the wounded many times over. Veliaminov had a significant impact on the development of medicine and medical practice, making a significant contribution to the development of modern medicine [2].

Nikolai Nikolayevich Petrov. At the beginning of the First World War, Nikolai Nikolayevich Petrov was drafted into the army, where he worked as a military field surgeon. He participated as a consultant-surgeon in hospitals at the front and in the rear, as well as organized classes for mobilized doctors. In 1915 Nikolay Petrovich published the monograph "Treatment of infected wounds in the war", the importance of which is difficult to overestimate. One of Petrov's significant achievements is the creation of the thesis on primary infection of a gunshot wound, which refuted the then widespread opinion about the sterility of such wounds [9].
Boris Kudryashov. During World War II, among many outstanding doctors was physiobiologist Boris Kudryashov, who developed and introduced the drug thrombin. This drug is capable of clotting blood into a clot in just a few seconds, which allows one to close severed vessels and stop bleeding, saving thousands of lives. Subsequently, under Kudryashov's guidance, fibrinolysin was created, which prevents thrombosis [4].
Aleksandrov Nikolay Ivanovich and Gefen Nina Efimovna. Research Sanitary Testing Institute (NIISI) was recognized for the development of a polyvaccine named in his honor. The work was conducted by N. I. Alexandrov and N. E. Gefen. This vaccine is capable of providing immunity not only against one disease but also against several diseases, such as typhoid, paratyphoid A and B, cholera, tetanus, and dysentery. The introduction of this drug had a significant impact on the reduction of morbidity among servicemen during World War II [6].
Severin Sergey Evgenievich. During the Great Patriotic War, Sergey Yevgenyevich Severin was the head of the Biochemistry Department at the Biology Department of Moscow State University. He was the first to develop the conditions for preservation and formulation of a solution containing glucose to increase the shelf life of donor blood and to preserve red blood cells, which contributed to the preservation of many soldiers' lives. For his work in the field of blood biochemistry S.E. Severin was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1945.

In addition, Severin lectured on the training of medical personnel for the front and worked to protect the health of workers producing weapons for the front. Under his direct supervision various sanitary and hygienic activities were carried out to prevent occupational diseases.
Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermolieva. Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermolieva was awarded the title of professor in 1939 for the development of a drug with high efficiency in the fight against cholera epidemic, as well as diphtheria and typhoid fever. This discovery was made during a business trip to Afghanistan. In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War, Zinaida received the Soviet analogue of penicillin (Krustosin VIEM), which was later put into commercial production. Thanks to this discovery it was possible to save the lives of thousands of soldiers [5].
As a result of the study of history and the contribution of famous medics during the wars we can conclude that scientists and military doctors played an important role in saving the lives of military and civilian victims of conflicts. Doctors on the front lines performed not only medical care functions, but also participated in the organization and planning of medical care, the training of medical personnel, the creation of new treatments, and the development of technology.
Frontline physicians worked under extreme stress and risk, but despite this, they continued their mission and did their best to save lives. Their courage, dedication and professionalism have left an indelible mark on medical history and the admiration of posterity.
In light of current global conflicts and disasters, the role of medics on the front lines is becoming increasingly relevant. Studying the history and experiences of renowned medics can serve as an example for current and future generations of medical professionals and help maintain and improve health in times of crisis.


About the authors

Anastasiia Dmitrievna Sainikova

Voronezh State Medical University named N.N. Burdenko

ORCID iD: 0009-0004-7426-257X

Student of 3th year of the Faculty of General Medicine

Russian Federation, 10, Studencheskaya St., Voronezh, 394036

Ivan Nenachov

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N.Burdenko

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7942-2844
SPIN-code: 9905-2934

Candidate of Medical Sciences, Associate Professor, Department of Hygienic Disciplines

10, Studencheskaya St., Voronezh, 394036


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