This essay will discuss whether WWI had a positive or negative impact on the history of medicine taking into account future impacts and concluding whether any progress made was worth the amount of deaths from the devastating war.
Firstly, the First World War did help medicine as although there were many deaths, the war allowed doctors to practice medical skills and also allowed them to improve their skills in dealing with wounds. This was evident as surgeons from this found new ways to repair broken bones, and performed skin grafts. The fact that there were many more wounds resulted in a need to find new solutions and so new techniques were introduced such as plastic surgery. In particular, Harold Gilles had created a unit to treat horrific wounds from World War One and became the first plastic surgeon to consider a patient’s appearance. In the long term, this led to a purpose built site for this surgery which created specialists in facial injury. This included Archibald McIndoe who had a great influence on WW2 and so this shows the great long term effect WW1 had on medicine.
The X-Ray was invented in 1895 by Wilhelm Rï¿½ntgen; however their importance was not fully used until the war which confirmed the significance of them as it allowed doctors to see where pieces of shrapnel and bullets were which would have caused infection but instead could be removed. This resulted in all hospital along the Western Front equipped with these machines and an improved success rate but furthermore, allowed this medical invention to confirm its importance in the history of medicine.
Another great thing which came from the First World War was blood transfusions as although it had been tried before; the success rate was minimal and there was not a real understanding, however, in 1901, blood groups were created. However, before WW1, the transfusions could only be done with on the spot donors and no storage of blood. With the new weapons, wounds were much more harmful and so blood loss was a huge problem, therefore, lots of blood was needed. In 1914, researchers found that sodium citrate could be used to prevent the blood from clotting, and so the blood could be bottled, packed with ice and transported without a live donor there. In 1915, Richard Lewisohn discovered the safe concentration of the citrated blood to transfer. As well as this being life-saving at the time, it had a very large influence on the future as it led to voluntary blood donations in London in 1920 and blood banks in 1930. Therefore research could also be continued.
A huge problem faced by surgeons on the battle line was the unhygienic and filthy conditions filled with bacteria, and therefore tis allowed doctors to find new ways of dealing with the filth. Bacteria was entering the bodies of wounded soldiers resulting in Gas Gangrene, however, Henry Dakin with Alexis Carrel created the Carrel-Dakin solution which was an antiseptic to combat the bacteria. This then resulted in research into antiseptics which then led to aseptic.
There was a very low standard of health among recruits of the army and this worried the government about the population’s health which led to action being taken. This including making health care home better as well as promising soldiers who fought good housing upon arrival home and so, the government got rid of the slum housing and built council housing which was much more sanitary. Brain surgery also improved during WW1.
Finally, medical cards were first used in 1915, which allowed for better organization meaning doctors could find out the medical history of patients without having to ask them. This had a future influence which is still used today to record patient’s medical histories. The war also inspired many people to discover new medicine such as Alexander Fleming who went on to partly discover the penicillin in 1928.
However, on the other hand, there are aspects of the First World War which hindered progress in medicine. A huge amount of medical research was stopped and 14,000 doctors in Britain were stopped from researching of which many could have potentially found new cures.
Another negative aspect is that during the war, there were thousands of casualties which could not be coped with, especially near the start of the war and the lack of care, added to the filth and lack of hygiene resulted I a huge amount of deaths but also meant that the professional were not able to personally treat each patient and diagnose tem but instead tended to just give an injection and leave it there whilst hoping for the best. There was also a huge lack of resources which contributed to the lack of being able to do anything.
The filthy conditions led to most soldiers’ wounds becoming septic and therefore, without the antiseptics, many doctors went back to amputations which are actually a regression in the history of medicine. There was also the problem of internal bleeding and infection. The new technology of weapons also made casualties even worse and led to huge death rates.
Finally, although communications in Britain were improved, international communications were very much hindered resulting in no new knowledge being passed on which means a potential cure could not have been used.
Overall, as it can be seen from the argument, the number of positives outweighs the negatives. Personally, I believe the First World War helped medicine more as the impact on the future was absolutely crucial with antiseptics, medical cards, health standards and blood transfusions being used still today which emphasises their importance. However, there were so many deaths and I believe that although there were so many deaths, the medicine improved during the war and so the start of the war was the worst but as antiseptics, X-Rays and blood transfusions were used, everything began to drastically improve which allows me to conclude that WW1 helped the history of medicine.