Forward Surgery and Combat Hospitals: The Origins of the MASH

US Army, Medical (1)Did you know that the US Army adopted forward surgical hospitals (SHs) during World War I on the advice of the British and French armies.

The purpose of these SHs were not just to save lives, but to benefit the military by returning more patients to duty and reducing the size of the hospital system through fewer infections and shorter hospital stays.

The US Army examined the utility of the units at the end of the war and retained them for any future conflicts, but opposition also survived. The question was the utility for the Army: was it worth making a substantial investment, and reducing care for other wounded soldiers, for the most grievously wounded, perhaps 1% of the total?

Devising an effective way to organise forward SHs was a problem in the inter-war years and early in World War II (WWII). But from the late 1930s, the Army never re-examined whether it should provide forward surgery, only how to do so, including pushing surgeons even further forward on the battlefield.

At the end of WWII, the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) was created to perform the mission, although the MASH was only the latest format.

Reference

Marble, S. (2014) Forward Surgery and Combat Hospitals: The Origins of the MASH. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 69(1), pp.68-100.

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