Old Photos: Soviet Medicine

The World’s Most Socialized Medicine.

With paramedics, polyclinics and plastic bone banks everybody gets free care in the USSR.

In the 1919 when the newly launched Soviet Union was threatened by a plague of louse-borne typhus, Vladimir Illyich Lenin bluntly warned his countrymen: “Either the lice defeat socialism or socialism defeats the lice.” The USSR survived the lice and in the half century since has built to most massive system of the national health care ever known, still based on Lenin’s logical, if unsentimental premise: Russia needs her workers, and a sick worker cannot work.

From birth do death the Soviet citizen is followed by a dossier of his health history. He may get production line preventive treatment without leaving his post at school, factory, farm or office. If he is sick but can walk, he goes to a polyclinic, one of thousands of free, all-purpose infirmaries. At least in the cities there are doctors aplenty. Of the world’s 2.5 million physicians, 500,000 – or one in five – are Russians. (The U.S. by comparison has 309,000 M.D.s, for a population 85% as large. Another half million trained medical assistants called feldshers supplement the doctors, particularly in the vast, thinly settled rural outlands.

The system has flaws. To achieve quantity, the quality of treatment often suffers. Hospital sanitation is spotty at best. Anesthetics and modern equipment are often unavailable and most advanced drugs have to be imported. Dentistry is painfully old-fashioned. Medical education considered as a whole, is not up to U.S. standards (I would argue with that. M.V). But the Soviet goal is a lifetime health care for everyone, and any enterprise that ambitious is bound to have failings.

Life Magazine, January 23, 1970

For some real-life hospital photos check out my earlier post.

The role of women in the Soviet Medicine - 70% of all doctors are female -is glorified in posters like this one outside of free clinic. ©Time Inc.Bill Ray.



Check up and vaccination during the school hours. There is no escape from good health. ©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

Privacy-schmivacy. Everything is done in front of the class.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

Factory workers get on-the-spot treatment from a team of feldshers and staff nurses without ever leaving their factory.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

Notice everyone is pretending there is no lady in the uniform with a heavy case standing in front of them. That’s Moscow subway for you.

Maria Lobanova, the duty feldsher at one of the 59 aid stations in the Moscow subway system, answers an emergency call down the line.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

A medical professional is making a house-call. On foot. In the snow. Still smiling.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

Muscovite mothers-to-be do breathing exercises to prepare for natural childbirth. Except in special cases all Soviet women use this (painful) method.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

Children's hospital.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

A Moscow specialist selects a suitable bone from a collection encased in plastic. This method of preservation was developed in the Soviet Union.©Time Inc.Bill Ray.

  • I Travel for JOOLS

    “To achieve quantity, the quality of treatment often suffers.”

    Exactly where we’re headed.

  • Gal Noir

    Everybody gets free care–free lousy care, that is. I had to laugh, “To achieve quantity, the quality of treatment often suffers. Hospital sanitation is spotty at best.” As if this is a small problem. That sentence trumps everything.