The purpose of this research was to acquire and interpret, through the techniques and methods of oral history, information from interviews with critical care nurses. Traditional histories of nursing cited chronology relative to major world events, and two biases were persistent. First, nursing was viewed in the shadow of the history of medicine and the uniqueness of nursing was absent in the telling of the story. Two examples illustrate this bias. Mark Hilberman, a physician, managed to describe the evolution of the intensive care unit with only incidental mention of nurses ( 1975). This is notable since the primary characteristic of any intensive care unit is the twenty-four-hour surveillance of patients by nurses. Paul Starr, a sociologist, scarcely mentioned nurses in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the rise of medicine and the health industry in the United States ( 1982). Yet nurses represent the largest group of health care workers in the United States.
Nurses as women generated the second bias in traditional histories. Nurses as individuals were as invisible as nursing has been as a discipline. Developments in social history over the past two decades, particularly those concerned with the experiences of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and workers have generated interest in the nurse's past, present, and future roles in health care. Interest in the study of nursing was generated from recognition of the nurse as "worker," as participant in a problematic hospital bureaucracy, as "female," and as part of the "history from below," or history of ordinary females, their ailments and treatments ( Rosenberg, 1987: 67- 68). Even when the stories of women and nurses have been addressed, the impact of specialization and regional influences may be absent. Further, while the details of nursing education and professional organization were well documented, the story of the development of actual clinical practice was almost non-existent. As a result, the elite leadership was documented while the hands-on practicing nurse was anonymous.
Finding primary source materials for recreating the experience of the practicing nurse may be problematic. First, practicing nurses are unlikely to have left formal papers to be preserved in archives. Second, the few written