Eleonora Dmitrievna Smirnova

I have been working at university for 56 years – since 1963 – since the establishment of the Department of Topographic Anatomy and Operative Surgery. I have risen from the ranks - I started to work as a senior assistant, then I became an assistant, associate professor, professor.  

Only the one who cannot help choosing this profession should choose Medicine
Eleonora Dmitrievna Smirnova
Dr. Habil. in Medicine, Professor of the RUDN University Department of Operative Surgery and Clinical Anatomy named after I.D. Kirpatovskiy
Will you tell us, please, how you realized that you wanted to choose a doctor’s career?

My parents are doctors and I grew up in this environment. As I can remember, from an early age, I always said that I would be a doctor. I couldn’t imagine myself in any other career. After finishing school, I didn’t hesitate to enter the First Moscow Medical Institute.

What work experience did you have before the university?

I graduated from the First Moscow Medical Institute in 1960. I had been studying all disciplines for five years and in the sixth year, I chose Surgery out of the three main specialties — Surgery, Obstetrics and General Medicine. After graduation I was placed to the Oryol Region, to a rural district, the town of Korsakov, where I worked as a surgeon for about a year. I returned to Moscow in a year and started to work as a surgeon in City Hospital № 13, where I got a good experience under the supervision of experienced surgeons of various specialties.

And how did you turn out to be at University?

Since the second year of studies at the institute I had attended the student scientific extracurricular activities in the Department of Topographic Anatomy and Operative Surgery headed by Professor Igor Dmitrievich Kirpatovskiy. In 1963, the Department of Topographic Anatomy and Operative Surgery was established at the University. Igor Dmitrievich was invited to head it. He suggested that I should work at the Department as a senior assistant. I agreed provided that I continued working as a duty doctor at hospital. I continued to work part-time for 7 years. After that I left hospital and started to teach.

The department developed new experimental research methods in surgery, in particular, experimental issues of organ transplantation. My both — PhD and Doctor’s — theses were devoted to the experimental development of this issue — transplanting a kidney, skin, small bowel.

The new operation methods, in particular, microsurgery were also under development. I went to France to study and master these methods.

You worked at hospital for some time before starting to work at RUDN University. Why did you choose teaching and did not devote yourself to treatment practice?

The first reason was the topic I had to deal with – experimental surgery – operations are practiced on animals and then they are performed at hospital.

Second, it is the role of an individual in history. Professor Kirpatovskiy was my teacher and, moreover, he had a strong, interesting personality. When I worked with him during the extracurricular activities we operated on dogs to help him gather material for his thesis. He developed an intestinal suture. This was the outset of my career in surgery. It was interesting for me to work with him. And I didn’t feel bothered about working as a senior assistant in the department.

Didn’t you want to give up teaching and return to treatment practice later?

As I was absorbed in teaching I was full of it. I remember my first lectures. They were a significant event for me and how much I prepared for them! I was consumed with both teaching and research work.

The university specificity was interesting for me. As far as I remember when we started to recruit international students, there were group supervisors who worked with them. The first groups were in the Faculty of Medicine — they consisted of 9 foreigners and 1 Soviet student. International students came from African, Latin American, Eurasian and Middle East countries.

Your area of expertise is experimental surgery. How far did you succeed in promoting this topic?

I turned my focus to organ transplantation. I was lucky, I almost stood at its origins. The first developments started back in the 1950s abroad. My teacher started to deal with it in Russia in 1960s. There was a laboratory for kidney and limbs transplantation in the department. My research work was devoted to kidney, skin, small bowel transplantation. I have made a certain contribution to small bowel transplantation — to the development of a model. I haven’t made any discovery but my developments and ideas have served as bricks in this field.

Two monographs ‘Fundamentals of Microsurgical Techniques’ and ‘Fundamentals of Organ Transplantation’ were written and published jointly with Kirpatovski. The textbook for medical students entitled ‘Clinical Anatomy’ was published in two volumes in 2003. It was reprinted in 2018.

When was the first time when you your students made you feel proud for them?

My first 15 students... they were people who belonged to the career they had chosen, you didn’t have to make them study. If they got bad marks, it was an exception.

Now our department consists of almost all my students, and I am very proud of this!

Only the one who cannot help choosing this profession should choose Medicine. A doctor and a teacher are two specialties which should be chosen by the one who feels it is their mission. Only these people will become real doctors and teachers.

I am really delighted and proud when I put an A for knowledge. The discipline is very complicated. One should know the structure of a human body, but it’s not enough, you should know it in connection with the operations performed by a surgeon.

What do you think is your most important achievement as a teacher, scientist and person?

First, it’s my family. I have an extended family: I have two sons, two daughters-in-law, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. All my grandchildren studied and are studying in different faculties at RUDN University.

Second, it’s my profession. I have enjoyed improving myself and developing at university for 56 years. I was very lucky to have such a teacher, teacher in the literal sense of this word, both in life and all the rest (profession, science).

Will you tell, please, about the most unusual day in your life?

I enjoyed travelling a lot, especially when you could combine it with science and research.

I travelled around the whole Europe — I was in Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, rivers of Europe, I sailed up and down the Rhine twice, the Danube. I travelled around the Soviet Union — I was in Kamchatka, Kurils, Sakhalin, Carpathians. I was on the Yenisei, Lake Baikal, I travelled around all Central Asia and whole Caucasus.

I made an unusual 75th anniversary celebration for myself. I had a dream to celebrate my 75th anniversary at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I did it. I spent a week in Paris and another one in the Cote d'Azur.

Will you give advice to the future doctors – those who are studying now? What will you wish RUDN University for its anniversary?

I wish RUDN University to have more students who choose a medical higher education institution and want to become doctors rather than just obtaining a degree. That’s the main thing. I wish the students who do it consciously, I mean, choose Medicine consciously because they can’t live in any other way.

As for students, I would wish them to feel that’s their bag before choosing a medical higher education institution.