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Petrovskiy, Boris Vasilyevich
Russian physician. Minister of Health from 1965 to 1980. Operated on Korolev.

Born: 1908-06-27. Died: 2004-05-04.

Obituary: Boris Vasiljevich Petrovsky was a patriarch of Soviet surgery, whose name symbolises an era in the development of Soviet medicine and health care. He was a general surgeon who made several major contributions to cardiovascular surgery, transplant surgery, and esophageal surgery. He organized and headed the All-Union Research Institute for Clinical and Experimental Surgery (now the Russian Scientific Centre for Surgery of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences). After his retirement in 1989 he remained the director emeritus of the institute and died in its intensive care unit. For more than 15 years (1965-80) Petrovsky was minister of health in the former Soviet Union.

Born in the Stavropol region in the south of Russia (near the Caucasus) he became a medical student at Moscow University. Soon after his graduation in 1930 Petrovsky served in the Red Army as a doctor. In 1933 he became a research investigator at the Moscow Institute for Oncology, where his candidate's dissertation (which is equivalent to a PhD thesis) was dedicated to transfusion of blood and blood substitutes in oncology.

Petrovsky served as a military surgeon in wars with Finland (1939-40) and Germany (the Great Patriotic War, 1941-5). During the latter he operated on more than 800 cases of gunshot wounds affecting blood vessels. He summarized this experience in his doctoral dissertation — a second thesis that is needed in Russia for an academic career and for becoming a professor—and also as a book, Surgical Treatment of Vascular Injuries (1949). In 1945 Petrovsky became a deputy director of the Research Institute for Experimental and Clinical Surgery, where he concentrated on esophageal surgery.

In 1948 Petrovsky became a professor of general surgery at the Moscow State Medical Institute N2. In 1949-51 he was sent to Hun- gary, where he became chairman of hospital surgery and director of a surgery clinic at Budapest University. On his return to Moscow Petrovsky was elected chairman of surgery at the Moscow Medical Institute N2 (now Russian State Medical University). In 1956 he became chairman of surgery at the Moscow State Medical Institute N1 (now the Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy).

Petrovsky made several innovations in cardiac surgery—including introducing artificial circulation apparatus and inserting mitral valve prostheses without sutures— and, in 1965, the year he was appointed minister of health, he also performed the first kidney transplant in the Soviet Union.

In his memoirs, Man. Medicine. Life (1995), he recalled being summoned to see Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev had a suggestion—that Petrovsky should be minister of health. Petrovsky said he was reluctant to take up the offer and would prefer to continue his career in surgery. But Brezhnev replied that the Politburo had already discussed the issue and approved the appointment. Petrovsky recalled, “I took a pause, thought it over, and then said that I would never go against the will of the Communist Party.” He remained minister of health for more than 15 years — longer than any other minister of health in Soviet history.

As minister, Petrovsky reformed Soviet medical education, supplementing primary specialization called “subordinatura” (in surgery, internal medicine, or obstetrics) during the last (sixth) year of medical school with “internatura”—an additional year, after the medical diploma, of postgraduate specialization at one of the large hospitals. This system has remained in place almost unchanged. Petrovsky supported the idea of the Oath of a Soviet Physician, which was approved by a special decree of the Soviet Parliament in 1971 and introduced to all medical schools in the Soviet Union. It follows the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath with some modifications. According to the Oath of a Soviet Physician, private interests are secondary to public interests. For example, medical graduates promised “to work conscientiously at places where public interests demand” (under the Soviet system graduates were often obliged to work for three years after internatura in remote rural hospitals).

Another of Petrovsky’s achievements was to establish anesthesiology as a specialty. Previously it did not officially exist. He created joint chairs for both anesthesiology and intensive care at all Soviet medical schools. He occupied numerous high ranking positions, including member of the Soviet Parliament. But he used his power mainly to help the All-Union Research Institute for Clinical and Experimental Surgery to flourish. He remained a director there and continued to work twice a week, despite being minister of health. At the institute Petrovsky launched in 1973 the Soviet Union’s first department of microsurgery, where fingers and hands and shoulders were successfully replanted.

Petrovsky was a romantic and idealistic figure. It has been said that he rejected a draft of a ministerial decree to increase surgeons’ salary with the following comment: “Surgery is a romantic profession. People should not go into it for making money.”

He enjoyed travelling, singing romances, and going to the Bolshoi theatre for ballet. He wrote memoirs and historical papers.

Predeceased by his wife, Ekaterina Mikhailovna, he leaves a daughter.

Country: Russia. Bibliography: 474.

1908 June 27 - .
1966 January 14 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1966 January 24 - .
1966 November 19 - .
2004 May 4 - .

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