1950s nursing

  1. 1
    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?
    student forever likes this.
  2. 64,002 Visits
    Find Similar Topics
  3. 144 Comments so far...

  4. 3
    Quote from colrainrn
    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?
    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.
  5. 6
    Quote from colrainrn
    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?
    I don't recall how he represented nurses, but a wonderful author, Frank G. Slaughter, MD, wrote novels over many decades and his novels would always describe the "cutting edge" in medicine.

    Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I can tell you that
    * temperatures were taken with mercury thermometers which were kept in cups of isopropyl alcohol. This was one of the the things which gave a characteristic smell to physicians' offices. (Rectal and oral thermometers were kept separate; the rectal thermometers having, I believe, a blue top and the oral ones a red top.
    * I remember getting a shot from a re-usable glass syringe, the needle sterilized between uses via flame.
    * ICUs and public CPR did not come into existance until the 1960s.
    * Personal Protective Equipment really didn't come into its own until the 1980s, after the AIDs epidemic. There were NOT glove boxes in every room.
    * IVs came in glass bottles.
    If you have seen "The Graduate", you will remember that Dustin Hoffman was given one word of advice, "plastics". That was in the early 1960s; much of the use of plastics and disposable medical equipment did not exist. I remember as a paramedic in 1977-1978, most hospitals had IV solutions in bottles; plastic IV bags were just starting to come in.
    * NSAIDs did not exist
    * Antibiotics primarily consisted of penicillin.
    * Polio vaccine did not come in until the 1950s.
    * Nurses generally wore white dress uniforms with their white nursing caps.
    * I'm not sure when nurses started regularly using stethoscopes, but it must have been during this time.
    * if you can find any of the old Dr. Kildare or Ben Casey series, that would give you some idea of the hospitals of the early '60s.
    * triage nurses did not exist in ERs.
    * personal computers, and therefore desktop computers, did not come into existance until the late 1970s (at the earliest; IBM first's entry was in 1981--which was the microcomputer businesses finally were willing to take a chance on--evolving into "wintel" machines. However, the graphical user interface did not appear on microcomputers until 1984, with the advent of the Macintosh, introduced with a very famous Super Bowl commercial, where "1984 will not be like 1984"--or something to that effect. It was not only a sentinel commercial for microcomputers, but also for superbowl commercials.
    * color tvs did not come into existance until the 1960s.
    * miniaturization and computers, velcro, etc., were all benefits of the space race and John F. Kennedy's decision to go to the moon; many of these things made the modern critical care units possible.
    * zip codes and area codes did not exist. I know in the 1950s you had to contact a long distance operator to make a long distance call. Since cell phones did not exist, and no monitoring equipment, people didn't worry about cell phone usage in critical care units
    * Fathers did not go into labor and delivery with their wives.
    * People would get admitted to the hospital to run tests, because insurance would cover hospitalization; otherwise the tests were not covered.
    * 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.
    * specialization had not really hit medicine; most docs were "gp"s -- general practitioners; there also, of course, was no such thing as advanced practice nurses.

    That's all I can think of/have time for at the moment...

    Hope that helps...

    NurseFirst
  6. 4
    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
    student forever, Grammyphyl, VICEDRN, and 1 other like this.
  7. 2
    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!!!
    student forever and VICEDRN like this.
  8. 3
    You could not tell a patient what his medicine was for.
    He had to ask the doctor.
    I'm not sure what time frame this belongs in, but at one point in time, you also could not tell the patient what his B/P or temperature was. He had to ask the doctor for that information as well.
    Last edit by LPN1974 on Mar 19, '05
  9. 8
    My mom is a RN from the 50's, so I've heard stories, and a few rural experiences to add.
    Lesssssee:
    Mom told me about taking care of people with polio, and being in "iron lungs".
    She told me about a not real sick woman complaining all the time, while a beautify child died in the iron lung right next to her.
    Mom also talked about hospital run nursing schools....think slave labor here.
    I remember washing and re=sterilizing surgical gloves.
    I remember heart monitors, hard wired to the pt. No telemetry!!
    Nurses, and absolutely students standing when docs came in.
    Nurses and docs smoking at the nurses station.
    Glass syringes and IV bottles.
    I developed xray films by dunking them in tanks of solution.
    I saw lab techs doing CBC's by looking thru a microscope and counting cells.
    Our ER had no nursed dedicated there after midnight. There was a buzzer on the ER door, when someone walked in, it buzzed and the hosptial operator, then called the nurse working first floor, who went down the hall to see what the emergency was. In those days, at that hour, it would have been an emergency!!!!!
    I remember funeral homes also provided amubulance coverage too!!
    Docs really were "capt. of the ship". Nurses did literally nothing, I think, without talking to the doc.
    Good thread, thanks for the memories!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Mike
    P.S. nursefirst blue thermometers oral red rectal.
  10. 6
    I went to nursing school in the mid 60's. We did have disposable syringes and needles, thank goodness, before that the whole thing was reusable: after the injection, the syringe and barrel were sent to sterile processing, as well as the needle, which needed to be checked for "burrs", and sharpened w/a whetstone--by an RN!! Everything came back in it's own little sterile package w/special tape to prove it had been sterilized.

    Oxygen wasn't in the wall, it was in a big "H" cylinder on a special trolley (which had a very sharp edge on it, I still have the scars to prove it. How many stockings did I wreck on those things?) Patients received O2 in a big tent, like you might see in old movies. There was a certain way to fold the sheets around the bottom edge so it looked neat--and the instructors checked, too.

    Premies couldn't get more than 40% (I think), because of Retinopathy of Prematurity, which was called something else, I forget. The O2 was somehow piped into the incubator, you had to check the O2 analyzer gizmo every so often. My first code-which wasn't annouced, of course--and my first death was in the premature nursery. Maintenence took the bodies down, all we did was get them ready. So we wrapped this little thing in brown paper like a rump roast @ the butcher shop, and the maintenence guy tucked it under his arm, and off they went. I was very sad.

    We used clinitest tablets to check for glucosuria--one of my classmates paniced one day cuz we were due in "conference", and she need to do the clinitest. She completely forgot how to do it: "I just threw the clinitest in the bedpan, I didn't know what the h*** I was doin'!"

    We gave respiratory treatments--there were no Respiratory Therapists @ that hospital. My orientation for my new hospital included meeting RT's for the first time. I was totally thrilled I wouldn't have to mix up mucomist any more!!

    That's all I remember right now.
  11. 3
    Orderlies did all catherizaton on males. There were aids on the floor to assist with baths and linen changes, these were done everyday faithfully. Doctors gave the IV meds. PO Meds were poured from stock supply bottles. Fathers saw their newborn babies through a glass wall and did not hold them until discharge. Surgery was a foreign world to families, doctors explained very little about procedures, just told the patient they needed surgery and they usually had it. Visiting hours were very strictly kept, polio was serious and NO ONE with fevers, open blisters, coughs or c/o pain or aches were allowed to visit if the nurse heard then complain of these. Clean meant clean. The floors shined, walls were shined, beds cleaned and linens were stiff and hard from being washed in strong detergents. I sure miss the smell of the old hospitals. I miss the sight of a nurse, uniform perfect walking with her head held high because she knen she was respected. I miss the men doing a lot of the heavy work, like pulling patients up in bed and moving beds when needed.
    Some things about the old days were good.
  12. 1
    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.
    WOW...#8 would get a lot of people canned now, huh? I'm so glad it's not 1887!
    VICEDRN likes this.


Top