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Moments in Surgical History |

World War I Surgery

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 2001;136(11):1328. doi:10.1001/archsurg.136.11.1328.
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CONTRASTED WITH the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, the whole of American surgery was far better prepared to deal with surgical difficulties during the first World War. This came about for 2 reasons: (1) the recent maturation of scientific surgery assured that operative intervention would be considered an invaluable and integral aspect of military medical care, and (2) surgical leaders began to understand the importance of effective political lobbying at a federal level. On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. However, slightly less than a year earlier, foreseeing the possibility of American involvement in ongoing European hostilities, the Committee of American Physicians for Medical Preparedness was created. Acting on behalf of 5 national societies, including the American Surgical Association, American College of Surgeons, and the Clinical Congress of Surgeons of North America, chaired by William Mayo (1861-1939) and dominated by surgeons, the committee tendered its professional services to the federal government.

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An Esmarch bandage that was supplied to American surgical teams during World War I. Inexperience in its use mattered little since illustrations on how to apply it were printed on the fabric (Mütter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia).

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