"Hollywood Nurses" in West Germany: Biographies, Self-Images, and Experiences of Academically Trained Nurses after 1945

Article excerpt

Abstract. The School of Nursing at Heidelberg University was founded in 1953 on the initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation to generate new, scientifically trained nursing elite to advance the professionalization of nursing in West Germany. The "American" concept met massive resistance. Its "superior nursing training" was seen as creating "Hollywood nurses"-a threat to the traditional Christian understanding of good, caring nursing. Intense social conflicts also caused problems with other groups of nurses. The school nevertheless played a very important role as a "cadre academy" in the history of professionalization. Many of the first German professors in the nursing sciences trained or underwent further training in Heidelberg.

West German nursing after World War II set no great store by theoretical instruction. A "good" nurse was primarily "good at heart," and tradition had it that a nurse's heart was educated by practical nursing tasks and being part of the community of sisters. Into the early 1950s West German nursing was influenced by the large confessional motherhouse sisterhoods and their tenets of Christian charity.1 Nurses spent most of their training time on the wards and learned the skills they needed, including their work ethics, from experienced colleagues. The lessons in the nursing school classrooms attached to the hospitals were of minor importance. This strong emphasis on practical experience did not only apply to basic nursing training. Head nurses and nursing teachers were qualified based on years of practical experience, not because they attended advanced training courses.2

It was against this backdrop that an entirely new, academically oriented type of school was established in 1953 on the initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation and the American military government. The Heidelberg School of Nursing was affiliated with Heidelberg University's Medical School with the aim of generating a new nursing elite that would advance professionalization of nursing in West Germany. The Rockefeller Foundation initiated similar schools in many other countries.3 In founding the Heidelberg School, the Foundation wanted to promote its public health model-a unified community program focusing on the health of families in their homes with a strong emphasis on prevention and health education.4 Foundation endeavors also served the purpose of denazifying and democratizing postwar Germany. Nurses like physicians, midwives, and other health care professionals were in close contact with the population and were seen as important disseminators of a new democratic thinking.5

The Heidelberg School of Nursing initially provided only basic training; but in the mid-1950s, it was also a training center for nursing teachers. It was the first institution in the Federal Republic of Germany to offer special training in nursing pedagogy. The teacher-nurses of the school were expected to have completed a further training course in the United States.6 In this way, the Heidelberg School played a central part in the transfer of American nursing concepts to West Germany. Graduates were often called "Hollywood" nurses, "Hollies" for short. Although it is not clear how the term originated, the meaning was that the Hollywood nurses, like actors, only pretended to be nurses and were not "real" German nurses. In the West German nursing landscape, the "American" reform school met a strong resistance. It is a good example of the enormous conflicts that could arise from international transfer of nursing and training concepts.

The departments of Nursing Science established at universities and universities of applied sciences since the 1990s have created a specific perspective on the history of the Heidelberg School of Nursing. The resistance to the American reform school has been seen as evidence of the backwardness of German nursing traditions.7 In the eyes of current nurse scientists, the late introduction of higher educational standards in Germany, as compared to the United States, goes back to the strong influence of the Christian view of duty-best exemplified by the motherhouse associations but in the postwar period also held by most nurses in Germany-and the resulting "professional feminine humility. …