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Biographical entry Petrovsky, Boris Vasilievich (1908 - 2004)

Order of Lenin; Hero of Socialist Labour; Hon FRCS 1972; Hon FRCS Edinburgh; Hon FRCSI; Hon FACS.

27 June 1908
Essentuki, Russia
4 May 2004
General surgeon


The following was published in Volume 8 of Plarr's Lives of the Fellows

Academician Petrovsky was the sixth Russian to be elected to the Honorary Fellowship, following the distinguished names of Victor Pachoutine, Nicolai Velyaminov, Vladimir Oppel, Nicolas Burdenko and Sergei Yudin.

In his citation to Council in Petrovsky's honour Lord Brock listed his predecessors in the Honorary Fellowship and said that Petrovsky and his wife, also a doctor, were not strangers to the College as they were honoured guests at the Lister Centenary celebrations at the College in 1967; Petrovsky then represented his country, which had shown an early interest in Lister's work. Lord Brock outlined Petrovsky's career, mentioning his being Professor of Surgery and Director of the Research Institute in Moscow, and that he had the distinction of being Minister of Health of the USSR and was a member of the USSR's Academy of Medical Sciences.

In 1960 Petrovsky was awarded the Lenin Prize for his cardiovascular contributions and in 1968 was made a Hero of Socialist Labour. He was also editor-in-chief of the journal Surgery (Khirurgiya). Lord Brock continued:

'He is an eminent scientist who has trained a school of Soviet surgeons, many of whom now head large departments and hold Chairs of Surgery. His works dealing with cardiovascular surgery, surgery of the oesophagus and mediastinum, blood transfusion, and transplantation of organs are widely known. He is the author of a number of original operative techniques. He was the first in the Soviet Union to make a successful kidney transplantation in man and in 1971 he was awarded a State prize for his work on renal transplantation. He has had much experience in the operative treatment of post-infarction aneurysm of the heart.

'He is President of the All-Union Society of Surgeons and is a member of many foreign societies and associations. In particular I mention to you, as showing the worldwide acknowledgement of his services and contributions to surgery, that he is Vice-President of the European Society of Cardiovascular Surgery, an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a former President of the International Society of Surgery. Many of us will recall the great success of his Presidency at that noteworthy meeting of the International Society in Moscow last year.'

Petrovsky replied in Russian, followed by a sentence in English.

He died sometime before 1996.

After subsequent information was received in 2005 the following obituary was written.

Boris Vasiliyevich Petrovsky was a distinguished general surgeon who made several major contributions to cardiovascular, transplant and oesophageal surgery, and was minister of health in the former Soviet Union for 15 years, from 1965 to 1980. He was born on 27 June 1908 in the town of Essentuki, in the northern Caucasus, the son of Vasiliy and Lydia Petrovsky. He studied medicine at Moscow University and soon after his graduation in 1930 served in the Red Army as a doctor.

In 1933 he became a researcher at the Moscow Institute of Oncology, where his kandidatskaya dissertation (the equivalent of a PhD thesis) was on transfusion of blood and blood substitutes in oncology. He served as a military surgeon during the war with Finland (1939 to 1940) and with Germany (1941 to 1945). During the Great Patriotic War with Germany he operated on more than 800 cases of gunshot wounds affecting blood vessels and subsequently wrote up his experiences in his doctorskaya dissertation (a thesis needed for an academic career) and in a book, Surgical treatment of vascular injuries (1949).

In 1945 he became deputy director of the Research Institute for Experimental and Clinical Surgery, where he concentrated on oesophageal surgery. In 1948 Petrovsky became a professor of general surgery at the Moscow State Medical Institute N2. From 1949 to 1951 he was in Hungary, where he was Chairman of hospital surgery and director of a surgery clinic at Budapest University.

On his return to Moscow, he was elected Chairman of surgery at the Moscow Medical Institute N2 (now Russian State Medical University). And in 1956 he became Chairman of surgery at the Moscow State Medical Institute N1 (now the Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy).

Petrovsky introduced several surgical innovations, including artificial circulation apparatus and the insertion of mitral valve prostheses without sutures. In 1965 he also performed the first kidney transplant in the Soviet Union. In the same year he was appointed as minister of health, a post he remained in until 1980 - longer than any other minister of health in Soviet history.

During his time as minister he reformed Soviet medical education, introducing a year of postgraduate specialisation. He also supported the idea of an Oath for a Soviet Physician, approved by the Soviet Parliament in 1971. This followed the Hippocratic Oath, with the addition of placing private interests secondary to public interests. He was also responsible for establishing anaesthesiology as a specialty, creating joint chairs for both anaesthesiology and intensive care at all Soviet medical schools.

While he was minister of health he continued to work at the All-Union Research Institute for Clinical and Experimental Surgery, operating twice a week. In 1973 he opened the Soviet Union's first department of microsurgery, where fingers, hands and shoulders were replanted.

He was a past President of the USSR Surgical Society and a past vice-president of the European Society of Cardiovascular Surgery. He was presented with many honours, including honorary fellowships of the College, of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, of the Surgical Societies of Poland, Hungary, Italy and Cuba, of the Czechoslovakian Medical Society and of the French Surgical Academy.

He enjoyed travelling, singing, attending the Bolshoi ballet, collecting books and gardening. He also wrote memoirs and historical papers. He married Ekaterina Mikhailovna Timofeeva, also a doctor. They had a daughter. He died on 4 May 2004.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Ann R Coll Surg Engl 1972, 51, 132-3 ; BMJ 2004 328 1381, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England