Siberia's medical train

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson
Years ago, I lived in a place which had few doctors and a basic hospital. But we did have a fantastic book called, appropriately, ‘Where there is no doctor’. It gave us two things: information and confidence. Information to help us when we were ill and confidence to feel that we could treat ourselves if we got ill. When I read this article, I wondered if the people in the villages described have a Russian version of that book?

The famous Trans-Siberian railway line runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, but there’s another line about 650 kilometres north of the Trans-Siberian. This is the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) and a special train, the Matvei Mudrov medical train, travels along its 4,000 kilometres. The train, with its twelve to fifteen doctors, spends a day in each of the small towns and villages along the BAM. The inhabitants of these remote places depend on this service because they mostly don’t have regular access to any other health care.

The Matvei Mudrov was named after a Russian doctor in the nineteenth century. He was one of the first doctors to believe that you shouldn’t only look at the disease, but you should also treat the individual patient. Nowadays, the Matvei Mudrov stops in each town or village on the BAM about twice a year. In the village of Khani (population 742) the patients include a man who has broken both ankles and a teenage girl who needs a check-up after surgery for appendicitis. Luckily, she was able to get to a town three hours away for the operation. Although the Matvei Mudrov can’t offer surgery, the train has a laboratory for blood and urine tests, heart monitors, an ultrasound and an x-ray machine. The medical staff includes specialists, such as neurologists, and they can diagnose and recommend treatment for their patients. The patients say they respect the doctors’ honesty and skill.

At another of the train’s stops, a town of about 4,000 people, there is already a queue of people waiting. 61-year-old Mikhail Zdanovich is one of them. He originally came to this town, Berkakit, in 1976. At the time it was a new town, with only about a hundred young people living in camp conditions. It was part of a Soviet Union expansion plan. Zdanovich married a woman who worked at the town bakery and they settled in the town. As soon as Zdanovich goes into the office, the doctor, Yelena Miroshnichenko, cries ‘Oh, Mikhail, I recognised your voice.’ He has a dislocated shoulder. The doctor writes a letter to say that he can’t work while he’s waiting for his shoulder to be treated. He leaves, happy, and then he returns a few minutes later. He brings freshly baked pies and a jar of goat’s milk. It’s clear that after years on the Matvei Mudrov, the doctors and their patients know each other well.

And, in fact, for these people living in this remote part of Russia, the Matvei Mudrov is more than just a health service. It’s a connection to the rest of their country, a confirmation that they are not forgotten.

appendicitis (n) an illness where a small part inside your body, under your stomach, becomes bigger than usual and painful
dislocated (adj) if a part of the body is not in its usual position, it is dislocated


check-up (n) a medical examination
connection (n) a relationship between two things
inhabitant (n) a person who lives in a place
jar (n) a glass container for food or drink
laboratory (n) a room used for medical or scientific work
neurologist (n) a doctor of the brain and nervous system
patient (n) a person who is being treated for an illness or injury
queue (n) a line of people who are waiting for something
specialist (n) a person who has knowledge or skill in a subject
staff (n) a group of people who work for the same organisation

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1. What’s the name of the train which is the subject of the article?
Matvei Mudrov

2. What's the purpose of the train?
to help patients who have emergency health problems
to provide health care to remote communities
to support local hospitals with specialist treatment

3. How often are people able to see the train’s doctors?
every day
every two months
every six months

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

4. According to the article, which statement is true?
It takes a day to travel from one village to the next.
The train travels for 650 kilometres across Russia.
There are a dozen or more doctors on the train.

5. Who was Matvei Mudrov?
a doctor who discovered the cause of several diseases
a nineteenth century doctor with original views
the man whose idea it was to start the train

6. Which of these services can a patient get on the train?
a brain scan
a check-up of their heart
a minor operation

7. According to the article, which statement is true?
The patients are very satisfied with the service.
The train’s doctors are trained in general medicine only.
The train’s facilities are extremely basic.

8. Mikhail Zdanovich ...
has met the doctor before.
is now able to return to his job.
was born in Berkakit.

9. Yelena Miroshnichenko ...
gives Zdanovich a note for his employer.
is able to treat Zdanovich’s shoulder.
likes to bring food for her patients.

10. The Matvei Mudrov ...
is one of several similar health services in Russia.
links people to other parts of Russia.
takes passengers to remote areas of the country.