Nikolay Pirogov

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Nikolay Pirogov
File:N.I.Pirogov 1870 photo by P.S.Zhukov.jpg
Nikolay Pirogov in 1870
Born (1810-11-25)25 November 1810
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died 5 December 1881(1881-12-05) (aged 71)
Vishnya, Russian Empire (now Vinnytsia, Ukraine)
Residence Russian Empire
Citizenship Russian Empire
Nationality Russian
Fields Medicine, Surgery, Anatomy
Institutions University of Dorpat
Alma mater Imperial Moscow University
Known for Field surgery
Notable awards Demidov Prize (1844, 1851 and 1860)

Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov (Russian: Никола́й Ива́нович Пирого́в; IPA: [nʲɪkɐˈlaj ɪˈvanəvʲɪtɕ pʲɪrɐˈɡofʲ]) (25 November [O.S. 13 November] 1810 – 5 December [O.S. 23 November] 1881) was a prominent Russian scientist, medical 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 recognized Russian physicians.


Childhood and training

Pirogov was born on 25 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.[1]

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 the state university in Tartu, Estonia), 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, Johann Nepomuk Rust and Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach at the University of Berlin. Germany's renowned 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.[1]

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,[1] 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-Joseph Seutin[2] 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[3] community of nurses established by Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, echoing the efforts made by Florence Nightingale for the British.

Return and retirement

Portrait of Nikolay Pirogov by Ilya Repin, 1881

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".[1]

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.

He last appeared in public on 24 May 1881, and died later that year in the village of Vishnya (now Vinnytsia, Ukraine). His body is preserved using embalming techniques he himself developed, and rests in a church in Vinnitsa, Ukraine. Compared to the corpse of Lenin, which undergoes thorough maintenance in a special underground clinic twice a week, the body of Pirogov rests untouched and unchanging: it is said that only dust has to be brushed off of it. It resides at room temperature in a glass-lid coffin (while Lenin's body is preserved at a constant low temperature).


File:1960 CPA 2504.jpg
Soviet 1960 stamp, published during his 150th anniversary

Nikolay Pirogov was from 1847 corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and received in 1844, 1851 and 1860 the Demidov Prize by the academy. He was appointed honorary citizen of Moscow in 1881. The Pirogov Society was founded four years after his death, which aims for better medical training and treatment in Russia.

The Pirogov Museum is located in Vinnytsia, Ukraine at his former estate and clinic. Near this 1947 building is a mausoleum which is used as a family chapel and in which his embalmed body is visible in public. Pirogov Glacier in Antarctica,[4] the large Pirogov Hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria and the 2506 Pirogov asteroid, discovered in August 1976 by Russian astronomer Nikolai Chernykh, are all named in honour of him. The medical universities Russian National Research Medical University and Odessa State Medical University were formerly named after him, until the Russian Revolution; Vinnytsia Medical University was named after N. Pirogov in 1960. Stamps with his portrait were published in the Soviet Union in 1949 and his 150th anniversary in 1960. The highest humanitarian prize in the Soviet Union was the Pirogov Gold Medal.

Apart from his developed foot amputation techniques, several anatomical structures were named after him, such as the Pirogoff angle; the Pirogoff aponeurosis, a structure from fascia and the aponeurosis of the biceps; the Pirogoff triangle, a triangular area located between the mylohyoid muscle, the intermediate tendon of the musculus digastricus and the hypoglossal nerve.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Voloshin, I; Bernini, P. M. (1998). "Nickolay Ivanovich Pirogoff. Innovative scientist and clinician". Spine. 23 (19): 2143–6. doi:10.1097/00007632-199810010-00022. PMID 9794062.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Louis Seutin (1793–1862)" (in french). Brugmann.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Khrestovozvizhenska" (in russian).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Pirogov Glacier. SCAR Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica.

External links