The High Cost of War: Advances in Battlefield Medicine

The High Cost of War: Advances in Battlefield Medicine
Florence Harding: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Three to four class periods


Wars always involve human death.  Typically, the first wars that the U.S. experienced as a nation resulted in great numbers of deaths after even the smallest of injuries due to infection and lack of medical knowledge or treatment.  As more wars took place over time, medicine advanced, and fewer soldiers died from lack of adequate medical treatment.  During Mrs. Harding’s lifetime, World War I took its toll on human lives.  At the same time, though, medical advances on the battlefield reduced the numbers of deaths from war injuries.


Students will research the history of medicine from the 1920’s to current time.  Students will apply the knowledge by creating and solving a real-life problem-based scenario.

Materials Required:

Research materials (books, articles, magazines, World Wide Web); Internet access (website suggestions listed in resources; you can also make use of the Modern Medicine timeline link);  computer(s) (to allow student to research topic further); Word Processor or paper; PowerPoint presentation program (optional); printer (for resources and final papers.


1.  Introduce the activity using the introductory information as well as asking students to recall any medical treatment they or family members have had in the past.

2.  Ask students what it would have been like to have those particular illnesses or injuries during the 1920’s.

3.  Next, have students research medical advances since 1920—remind them that practically none of the medical care today would have been available to them if they lived in the 1920’s.  And none of this was available to soldiers wounded in battle—resulting in a much higher mortality rate.

4.  “What would you do with the 1920’s wounded?”  Create (the teacher or students) real-life scenarios or problems placed in the setting of 1920’s that will allow students to apply the information from the research in # 3 and think creatively to solve the problem. For example:

The date is 1921 and you (the student) have just been notified that your friend is wounded from a hiking accident.  Aid is on the way but in the mean time, you must find a way to secure a broken wrist and/or stabilize an abdominal injury.(There is the option to place students into groups or allow them to work individually.)

5.  Have students type the problem-based scenario and the solution to the problem in a one to two page paper.  Pictures of instruments or materials used could be added to the paper.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Students could present their papers to the class and have class discussions about what could have been done differently.  (Remember that each student or group may have found different techniques or instruments used during the 1920’s.)
  • There is the option to team-teach this lesson with the health teacher.  Students can compare and contrast the methods used during the 1920’s to the methods used today for the same scenario.
  • Locate a novel (or movie) that relates to how medicine was applied during war time.

Sources & Resources:



This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University