Nurses and Doctors
Special training and special calling - to be a hospital caregiver.
Up until Florence Nightingale's time, nursing was generally not considered an acceptable profession. One reason was because nurses were exposed to illnesses they might end up catching themselves. Unless a woman became a nun, caring for the sick was not looked upon highly….especially on a full-time basis. A woman’s place was in the home.
Formalized training went a long way to change the image of nurses. As procedures became more standardized from hospital to hospital, nurses were required to meet rigorous educational requirements. Nursing schools upheld strict codes of conduct and began to take on more prestige. Each school had its own nursing cap and pin to further promote a sense of belonging to a select group.
Even so, nursing schools provided an inexpensive form of labor for hospitals. Student nurses cooked the food, scrubbed the floors and stoked the fires, since there were no departments for food service, housekeeping and maintenance back then. The work was physically demanding.
One nurse recalls, "Water was boiled in copper kettles on the gas plate in the small service room and carried to the operating room in covered pitchers. Patients were taken to and from the operating room on stretchers. All types of cases were cared for in the hospital at that time. Trays were served from the basement kitchen, and carried to the upper floors. There was no elevator in those days. The number of hours on duty was very indefinite; classes were held occasionally in the evening. No night supervisor or graduate assistant advised one during the weary hours."
The nurse’s cape on display at Mercy Medical Center's hall of history was owned by Gladys M. Reetz, a 1933 graduate of the Mercy School of Nursing. She married Francis E. Brooks on April 23, 1934 and they had three children. (Cape and photo donated by their daughter, Jacqueline C. Schmidt.)
The nursing staff from December 1939 (L-R): I. Hogan, R. Lutz, L. Jahn, A. Dillon, J. Miller, C. Allen.
At the end of the 19th century, physicians also took on strenuous workloads. Without the electric tools of today, surgery was exhausting. Their long hours included traveling to make house calls.
Physicians typically worked out of their homes until the late 1800s. But with advances in science, hospitals became centers of technology, with equipment and staff doctors could no longer afford on their own.
Even so, doctors at Mercy were still required to buy their own instruments up until the 1960s, when the hospital began to furnish the best instruments available. This was good timing, because by the 1970s, one doctor recalls that "new devices came out every five minutes!"
During the 20th century, technology progressed at an accelerated pace, resulting in highly specialized equipment, which in turn fostered more specialized disciplines of study in the health care field. But specialists are not new to the Fox River Valley. As early as the 1880s, Dr F. Gregory Connell (Oshkosh), Dr. Nicholas Senn (Fond du Lac) and Dr. J. B. Murphy (Appleton) were developing new surgical techniques. Dr. Connell went on to establish two new societies – the Wisconsin Surgical Society and the Wisconsin Surgical Travel Club – in his efforts to promote further education among surgeons.
Physicians such as these pioneered the improvements we often take for granted in the year 2000. Most of the patients we are treating today would not have survived 50 years ago. With doctors saving the lives of more patients, recovery has become a more complicated process. This has spawned the need for more support staff, such as respiratory and physical therapists.
Dr. M. E. Corbett, one of Oshkosh's first surgeons
Dr. Charles William Oviatt in 1910
Like father, like son. In this photo, the young men in the front row all decided to follow in the footsteps of their physician fathers, standing behind them. Shown from left to right: Doctors Zmolek, Flaherty, Weber and McDonald.
Not surprisingly, technological advances have also made the role of nurses more challenging than ever. They must have the knowledge to understand technology and lab tests, since they are the ones who most likely will be first to detect any signs of trouble. They need to be in tune with the complex interaction of patients’ nervous, endocrine, muscular and circulatory systems, so they can alert the proper physician if anything seems out of balance. Not only must they be able to communicate intelligently with specialists, they must be able to translate complicated information clearly and sensitively to patients and their families. It’s a nurse’s job to keep everything on track.
As we move beyond the year 2000, we expect the responsibilities of nurses and physicians to become even more complex. Government and private health plans are making it increasingly challenging for doctors to prescribe the care and treatments of choice. Furthermore, the prevalence of litigation in our society is pushing the need for documentation the forefront of a nurse’s many other duties. We will need to keep exploring new roles, procedures and treatments that allow us to continue providing quality health care that is efficient, as well as compassionate.