New Directions in the History of Nursing: International Perspectives

By Barbara Mortimer; Susan McGann | Go to book overview

6

US organized medicine's perspective of nursing

Review of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1883-1935

Brigid Lusk and Julie Fisher Robertson

Nursing and medicine are inexorably intertwined, through a shared interest in patient welfare. This professional proximity has encouraged members of both groups to observe and respond to the activities of the other. Following the introduction of formal nurse preparation in the US during the 1870s, there is evidence that physicians welcomed the presence of educated nurses at their side. The early records of the Illinois Training School for Nurses cite several instances of physician approbation of trained nursing care. For example, in 1882 a Cook County surgeon wrote:

A week ago, standing by the bedside of a little boy, a victim of that dread disease hydrophobia, I could not help admiring the tender care which rendered his last hours more bearable. No mother could have done half so much for her own child as this nurse did for her charge, and in the face of risking her own life by so doing. 1

Yet later physicians wrote scathingly of the education of nurses and their perceived encroachment upon medical practice. For example, a 1928 editorial in the Illinois Medical Journal discussed the 'presumptuous, physician-dominating, over-trained, dictatorial nurses and their mock practice of medicine'. 2

In this chapter, we examine and analyse the development of this attitudinal change through nursing-related literature that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) from 1883 to 1935. This time period was pivotal for the development of both professions. A description of the changing fortunes of nursing and medicine is included to provide necessary contextual information. While medicine was transforming itself into a scientific profession, nursing-conceived as a respectable new field for women-struggled with inferior training schools and limited career prospects. Historical data show that nursing was significantly shaped by the paternalistic dominance of medicine, with its overpowering forces of gender and social class. 3

JAMA first appeared as the weekly publication of the American Medical Association (AMA) in July 1883. It was modelled on the successful British Medical Journal, which had produced positive benefits for the British Medical Association in terms of membership and revenues. 4 The new journal was a success. In 1875,

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