Cartoon character sitting down reading and upside down book, with tears rolling down his face

Synapse: May 4, 1960

Thursday, April 30, 2015

From 55 Years Ago:
Vol. 4, No. 7, May 4, 1960:

A half century ago, more than 95 percent of doctors were men and more than 95 percent of nurses were women. A couple of articles in the Synapse echoed this particularly stark gender gap with evidence of a particularly gendered idea of nursing.

In the “Listening In” column, Barbara Deushane (School of Nursing) wrote. “Yes, there has been much controversy around campus, concerning nursing. . . What kind of a nurse to patients want? In general, patients say they want someone who’s ‘friendly,’ ‘cheerful,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘interested in them.’ They say, also, that they want a nurse in whom they can have confidence.”

A couple of quoted medical professional come across less well. “We talked to a dentist who, while hospitalized, decided upon ‘basic qualities,’ or ‘minimum requirements,’ which he thought nurses should possess. These were ‘empathy, interest, competence, physical attractiveness, and a reasonable amount of coordination.’”

Deushane further reported that “Interns and medical students mention the personality factor when they are case physicians, as well as when they are patients. One intern said, ‘I really spend a lot of time around here and often get tired, so I like a nurse who’s somewhat jovial.’ Perhaps the nurses would also like to work with a physician who is somewhat jovial.

Elsewhere in that issue, a news brief discussed the participation by the School of Nursing in a career day at a local high school. “There were two sessions on nursing led by Miss Charlotte Gaffney, instructor at U.C. School of Nursing, who enumerated some of the important qualities required in a nursing career.” (No word on whether physical attractiveness was mentioned.) Several student nurses “explained the differences between their schools, entrance requirements, what student nurses do in their spare time, and modeled their uniforms. A cap bar was set up, where girls could try on the various nursing school caps.”

Well, it’s always fun to chortle at old articles. And, approximately 90 percent of nurses are women, but male nurses on average earn several thousand dollars more annually, even when controlling for experience, specialty, and location. Although nurses no longer have to wear those caps, a sense of nurses being handmaidens to doctors occasionally lingers. We still have some progress to make.