Nikolay Pirogov

Nikolay Pirogov bigraphy, stories - Russian medical scientist

Nikolay Pirogov : biography

25 November 1810 – 5 December 1881

Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov () (13 November (25 November) 1810 – 23 November (5 December) 1881) was a prominent Russian scientist, doctor, pedagogue, public figure, and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1847). He is considered to be the founder of field surgery, and was one of the first surgeons in Europe to use ether as an anaesthetic. He was the first surgeon to use anaesthesia in a field operation (1847), invented various kinds of surgical operations, and developed his own technique of using plaster casts to treat fractured bones. He is one of the most widely recognised Russian physicians.


Childhood and training

Pirogov was born on 13 November 1810 in Moscow, Russia, to a major in the commissary service. He learned to read in several languages as a young child. His father died in 1824, leaving his family destitute. Pirogov originally intended to become a civil servant, but the family doctor, Efrem Mukhin, who was a professor of anatomy and physiology at Moscow State University, persuaded the authorities to accept him as a student aged only 14.

Despite limited experience at medical school, Pirogov decided to specialize as a surgeon when he completed his studies in 1828. He completed further studies at the German University of Dorpat, (now in Tartu), receiving a doctorate in 1832 on the ligation of the ventral aorta. There he studied under Professor Moyer, who was trained by Italian anatomist Antonio Scarpa, both influencing figures for Pirogov, and was professor from 1836 to 1840. In May 1833, he travelled to Berlin, meeting surgeons Karl Ferdinand von Graefe, Rust and Diffenbach at the University of Berlin. Germany’s only surgeon, Professor Bernhard von Langenbeck, taught Pirogov how to properly use the scalpel, namely like a violin bow. Pirogov also visited the University of Göttingen.

Years as doctor and field surgeon

In October 1840, Pirogov took up an appointment as professor of surgery at the academy of military medicine in Saint Petersburg, and undertook three years of military service in this period. He first used ether as an anaesthetic in 1847, and investigated cholera from 1848. Around this time he compiled his the anatomical atlas, Topographical anatomy of the human body (vol. 1-4, 1851–1854).

He worked as an army surgeon in the Crimean War, arriving in Simferopol on December 11, 1854. From his works in the Crimea, he is considered to be the father of field surgery. He followed work by Louis Seutin in introducing plaster casts for setting broken bones, and developed a new osteoplastic method for amputation of the foot, known as the "Pirogov amputation". He was also the first to use anethesis in the field, particularly during the siege of Sevastopol, and he introduced a system of triage into five categories. He encouraged female volunteers as an organised corps of nurses, the Khrestovozvizhenska community of nurses established by Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, echoing the efforts made by Florence Nightingale for the British.

Return and retirement

He returned to Saint Petersburg after the end of the war in 1856, but withdrew from the academy. He wrote an influential paper on the problems of pedagogy, arguing for the education of the poor, non-Russians, and women. He also argued against early specialisation, and for the development of secondary schools. He returned to the Crimea as a superintendent of schools. He moved to Kiev in 1858 after disagreements with the governor general in Odessa. In 1856, he retired to his estate in Vishnya in central Ukraine. He treated the local peasants there, established a clinic, and learned the Ukrainian language. The composer Tchaikowsky was one of his visitors there. Around this time he wrote The Old Physician’s Diary and "Questions of Life".

In 1862, he took charge of a delegation of Russian students that was sent overseas to train as teachers. He treated Giuseppe Garibaldi for an injury to his foot sustained at Aspromonte on 28 August. Pirogov returned to Russia in 1866, leaving his estate only rarely. He visited the battlefields and field hospitals of the Franco–Prussian War in 1870, as a representative of the Russian Red Cross, and was again a field surgeon in the Russo–Turkish War in 1877.