1950s nursing - page 8

I would love to hear how a nurses day went in the 1940s,50s, early 60s. Any major differences between now and then...any good stories to share?... Read More

  1. by   RetiredMSN
    Colrainrn, I was a student in a hospital program in the late 50's. The memories are far from all good. We had to live in the nurses' residence. You could not be married. However, I had one classmate whose husband was in the military stationed over 400 miles away for the entire 3 years, so she was allowed to enter the school. In our Senior yr., the school relented and allowed students to marry in their last 6 months of school and live off campus as close to the hospital as possible (which I did). Hours were very strict and no men were allowed past the visitation rooms on 1st floor, where the matron kept a close eye on all proceedings. You were disciplined if you were not back to the residence on time: which was 9:00 PM week nights, and either 11 or 12:00 on weekends.

    In those days, student nurses were the free "slave labor" for the hospitals. Once you were past your probationary period, which was the 1st 6 months, you were given unbelievable amounts of responsibilities, including being the only one providing care to a whole division of patients on evenings and nights, including medications and treatments. Yet, we were expected to also be sure every patient received "PM care." This was a partial bath with a back rub, every evening. It was a real luxury to have an aide on the division to help us. If a student was lucky enough to pull a day shift (in addition to all the classwork and studying) she was given one assignment, as in charge of medications, or treatments, or personal care on the division.

    In our Junior and Senior years, it was not unusual at all to be put in charge of a division for a shift, with maybe an aide or 2, maybe not. I remember many nights being the only one on the division to provide all the care the patients received all night. We had 40-hr weeks that included class time and floor work, and it was very rare to ever be able to leave the floor when your shift ended, so in actuality the hours put in were well over 40/wk. And of course, there were NONE of the conveniences and modern equipment you have today. But, neither did we have the "super bugs."

    Mental Health? My experience was no different than the classic movie "Snake Pit."

    I could go on & on. Advantages: By the time we graduated we could do anything & were ready to work any place. Disadvantages: No public health, and too much emphasis on work hours, performing tasks, and not enough on education & problem solving. Count your blessing today! RetiredMSN
  2. by   jyoung1950
    Quote from allamericangirl
    Back in those days (the 50s and 60s) my Dad had what they called Major Medical Insurance and it had a deductable, something like $200. It covered anything that you had to go to have surgery for from Tonsillectomy, Appendicitis, Heart Attacks, or Cancer care, and accidents like broken bones. You could afford to pay out of your pocket for a doctor's office visit and injections, and vaccinations back then!! It's ridiculous today. A visit to your local doc will run about $145.00 to $195.00 here in the Denver area, and there are no walk in clinics where you can go in and be seen for a cold or the flu for a few bucks. Twelve years ago before we moved to Denver, I lived a short time in the St. Louis area and there was a chain of walk in clinics there where you could go for $25.00 and get checked out and buy your antibiotics from them too and they were very reasonable. I don't know if it is just Denver that has nothing like that or if it is like this all over now! You know that the insurance companies don't pay Drs $145 to $200 for an office visit! And then there is the cost of RX! You could get Penicillin for your infection for $2. to $5. I thought that an expensive med back then was about $20. :angryfire
    My first "real" job was at an oil company and they provided health insurance. There was a deductible to satisfy before the insurance kicked in; but if you had to be in the hospital the insurance paid for everything.

    It was nice and neat and simple to handle. How in the world did health insurance become so dang complicated?
  3. by   prmenrs
    My school (1965=1968) cost a total of $875. That included room, board, tuition, books, uniforms, including a cape---the works!!!
  4. by   gwenhyfar
    Quote from katy_kenemy
    as late as the eighties at our hospital, the doctors and nurses would smoke while they worked!!!! one doctor used to pat nurses' butts and think nothing of it!!!
    Yep, happened in the 80's at our hospital too. We wore whites, and the nuns checked skirt length regularly! Not only were we expected to get up and let the Dr. have the chair and the chart, we were expected to get cups of coffee, correctly sweetened, and light the cigarettes.
    It was funny, especially thinking back, but I really loved a lot of those guys!
  5. by   kenni
    don't know how long ago this was, but my instructor recently told me how most hospitals were run with only 1 RN on duty, mostly work was done by LVNs and nurses aides. and back then nurse aides/techs were allowed to give meds, injections, everything.
  6. by   BabyRN2Be
    Quote from RoxanRN2003
    The following job description was given to floor nurses by a hospital in 1887:


    In addition to caring for your 50 patients, each nurse will follow these regulations:
    1. Daily sweep and mop the floors of your ward, dust the patient's furniture and window sills.
    2. Maintain an even temperature in your ward by bringing in a scuttle of coal for the day's business.
    3. Light is important to observe the patient's condition. Therefore, each day fill kerosene lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
    4. The nurse's notes are important in aiding the physician's work. Make your pens carefully; you may whittle nibs to your individual taste.
    5. Each nurse on day duty will report every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. except on the Sabbath on which day you will be off from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
    6. Graduate nurses in good standing with the director of nurses will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if you go regularly to church.
    7. Each nurse should lay aside from each pay day a goodly sum of her earnings for her benefits during her declining years so that she will not become a burden. For example, if you earn $30 a month you should set aside $15.
    8. Any nurse who smokes, uses liquor in any form, gets her hair done at a beauty shop, or frequents dance halls will give the director of nurses good reason to suspect her worth, intentions and integrity.
    9. The nurse who performs her labors and serves her patients and doctors without fault for five years will be given an increase of five cents a day, providing there are no hospital debts outstanding.

    Yeah, this list was also given to teachers and has been made up to suit various other professions in "1887". While some of it might be true, I think it's a hoax. Actually, I've confirmed that the one for teachers is a hoax and someone just adapted the list for the nursing profession. Check the link below and compare the two lists:
    http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1872rule.htm

    Makes for fun reading though.
  7. by   JessicaInOr
    Quote from tridil2000
    in the eighties we did blood sugar checks by dropping a drop of blood on these blue strips that would change colors. you'd have to compare the ehues on the bottle to estimate your blood sugar.
    I remember those. I was working in a SNF and sent a patient to the ER because of an amazingly high BS.

    That was the day I discovered I am color deficient. His actual BS was 120. Who knew? :chuckle

    Lucky for me the patient was cool about the whole thing. VA wasn't.
  8. by   JessicaInOr
    Quote from colrainrn
    Thanks to those who replied.....lets keep the thread coming. I loved reading about the 1887 Nursing roles and the doctors office visit of the 1950s---how things have changed!

    Sean....new RN as of June 2004 Med/surg
    A friend brought her grandmother's nursing text book to work one day. Chapter 1 was full of recipes, the nurses cooked the food too.

    Chapter 2 was how to treat the doc, he is to be treated with total respect.
  9. by   Jamesdotter
    Quote from AzMichelle
    in the eighties we did blood sugar checks by dropping a drop of blood on these blue strips that would change colors. you'd have to compare the ehues on the bottle to estimate your blood sugar.
    Before the blue strips there were Clinitest tablets. And before the Clinitest tablets there was Benedict's Solution. In a test tube, place 5 cc's of Benedict's reagent and 8 drops of urine, boil in a water bath for 5 minutes and read the color--from blue (negative) through green, yellow to a red precipitate (more than 2%). You can imagine how difficult this was for many patients to do at home. And some of our patients didn't have any way to heat a water bath.

    We also checked for acetone--1 Gm of reagent, in a test tube and add 5 cc of urine. shake until the reagent dissolves, then drip an ammonia solution down the side of the test tube to form a layer at the surface of the urine-reagent solution. We estimated the amount of acetone by the size of the purple ring that formed in the presence of acetone (it was a pretty color, lol).

    We blessed the people who developed Clinitest and Acetest tablets. The Clinitest provided its own heat and we just put a drop of urine on the Acetest tab (do they still use those?)
  10. by   oneillk1
    Quote from ocankhe
    Let's see how my memory banks are working
    Nurses didn't routinely take blood pressures in the 40's and early 50's as that was considered part of the practise of medicine.
    Patient assessmens, ie listening to lung and heart sounds ,didn't become widespread untill the 70's.
    When ICU/CCU first came about nurses had to wait for the MD to come before giving antiarrhythmic drugs IV, in fact in many places RN couldn't give any drug IV. Unless of course you were a CRNA.
    CRNA's gave virtually all of the anesthesia agents as anesthesia before te 1960's was considered a Nurses job and not an area a MD should do.
    If an MD came onto the floor the nurse had to stand, give up her chair to the MD, open the door for MD, stop using the chart and give it to te MD.
    You had to play the "nurse doctor game" to get an order changed or one you felt the patient neded.
    There was no such thing as every other weekend off.
    Nurses like children were to be seen and definetly not heard.
    Metal bedpans and hoppers.
    Bed rest for weeks after an MI or birth.
    I'm sure there is more, keep them coming

    Oh my gosh I think that New Zealand is definitely still in the dark ages.
    In NZ...
    Nurses do not regularly use stethescopes in their daily work unless they are in a specialist area.
    Nurses don't do physical patient assessments all that often, they wait for the doctor to come and assess the patient, or when the nurse has assesed the patient and gives the doc their findings, the doctor ignores it and repeats the assessment.
    We still have some metal bedpans around.
    Some places still regularly use mercury thermometers.
    We constantly play the Doctor nurse game.
  11. by   kmrmom42
    What a fun thread this has been. Walking down memory lane can be fascinating.
    I became a nurse later in life, but i have worked in health care since 1971 and both my mother and mother-in-law were nurses.
    My mother-in-law's memories were the oldest (graduated in 1932). She remembered things like washing gloves, washing and rolling bandages, glass syringes, and she worked in Med/Surg and OB which were separated only by a set of swinging doors (and this was years after Lister!)
    My father in law was a doctor. He had photographs of himself in the operating "theater" that were absolutely astounding when compared with todays ORs.
    My mother went to Children's Hospital School of Nursing in Boston and graduated pregnant with me in 1956. They wore blue pinstripe dresses of stiff fabric covered by a starched white apron. They wore black stockings and black shoes. and, of course, white caps. The caps were little square things with a black velvet ribbon on them. The students were used as "slave labor" as someone else mentioned in this thread. She worked long, hard days but when she was finished she was experienced enough to become the house supervisor within a year or so after she graduated. My mother had to get special approval to marry my father because the students all lived in nursing quarters owned by the school and they were not supposed to be married. However, my grandfather was dying and my Mom wanted him to walk her down the aisle. So my mother and father married and my Dad went back to his Sargeants quarters at Ft Bragg in NC and my Mom went back to her nurses quarters. Obviously there was a leave eventually that allowed for my conception. My mother tried to hide this for a while but she was VERY thin and the bump in her belly and the swelling of her ankles gave her away. They let her stay though.
    My early experiences in health care were in nursing homes. We sat at the desk and smoked, nurse's aides were not certified and we learned on the job. We did far more than nurse's aides do today, including charting. Some of my co-workers charts were hilarious to read and made for a fun downtime activity. "Helped Mable put her girdle on. It was tight but we got it on" LOL
    We did enemas, tube feedings, douches, decubiti treatments (anyone remember Maalox?), and much more. When I think of it now I cringe at what I was allowed to do as a naive teenager.
    Childbirth has changed a lot too. My Mom gave birth to me under the influence of scopolamine. She had told the staff that she didn't want it but they came in, rolled her over and jabbed her butt without her permission. (Nowadays that would be assault). The kicked my father out, actually sent him HOME, took my mothers glasses away and would not return them when she asked (she is legally blind without them). After I was born they put her in a long ward of postpartum women and announced to them that my mother was a pediatric nurse and that since they were short staffed they could direct their newborn questions to her!

    Anyway, I have lots more stories....like many of us I feel I could write a book. However, I think that is enough. Thanks for starting this thread.
    Have a great day everyone!

    (Addendum:Finishing my MSN this week!! HOORAY! :hatparty: )
  12. by   Maverick80
    this information is absolutely amazing...it's crazy how nursing has evolved in just in the 20th century!!
  13. by   crazylilkelly
    * X-rays and stethoscopes were the typical "diagnostic" equipment. There wa a lot more "hands on" doctoring, and emphasis on diagnosing based upon what the physician saw, heard, felt, smelled...and I'm not sure when physicians stopped tasting urine (don't know if it was before or after the 1940s) for diabetes.

    Are you serious, Docs used to TASTE their patient's urine????? I wonder how many docs got ill from doing that?

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