History and development of trauma care in the United States

Donald D. Trunkey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Until recently the development of systems for trauma care in the United States has been inextricably linked to wars. During the Revolutionary War trauma care was based on European trauma principles particularly those espoused by the Hunter brothers. Surgical procedures were limited mostly to soft tissue injuries and amputations. The American Civil War was remarkable because of the contributions that were made to the development of systems for trauma care. The shear magnitude of casualties required extensive infrastructure to support the surgeons at the battlefield and to care for the wounded. For the first time in an armed conflict, anaesthetics were used on a routine basis. Despite these major contributions, hospital gangrene was a terrible problem and was the cause of many mortalities. World War I and World War II were noteworthy because of the contributions made by surgeons in the use of blood. One of the major lessons of World War III was the reemphasis of how frequently lessons have to be relearned regarding the treatment and care of wounds. Between the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War the discovery was made of the tremendous fluid shifts into the cell after severe hemorrhagic shock. As a consequence, the treatment of patients with shock was altered during the Vietnam Conflict, which resulted in better outcomes and less renal failure. The first trauma centers for civilians were started in the United States in 1966. Since 1988 the number of states with mature trauma systems has expanded from two to 35. During the same period, many studies have documented the efficacy of trauma systems in reducing unnecessary mortality and disability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-46
Number of pages11
JournalClinical orthopaedics and related research
StatePublished - May 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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