Nursing in the 1920’s through 1930’s

This week I have come to think that nursing is become much more organized and technology is making a big difference. Nursing at this time doesn’t seem so foreign anymore as it is becoming more similar to what nursing is today which is more diverse, organized, and focused.

In the 1920’s through the 1930’s WW1 is coming to an end and it seems like it is a new era for growth and refinement that is until the wall street stock market crashed and lead to the the great depression in 1929. Up until this time, most nurses were hired by a household to be a private in-house nurse meaning, they were privately employed by the patient or the patient’s family themselves and the nurse would provide care for the entire length of illness or injury and would work around the clock. These nurses were paid by the patient or patients families themselves but when the great depression occurred people stopped being able to afford private nursing care and stopped hiring private nurses. This caused a huge shortage of jobs and caused most nurses to look for work in hospitals. At the time, working in a hospital as a graduate nurse was looked down upon because it meant you had failed as a public duty nurse. Most nurses who worked in a hospital setting were student nurses and not actually graduate nurses.

The overall health of the public took a major decrease during the great depression because nobody sought treatment due to not being able to afford healthcare. The public was suffering from situations which were detrimental to overall health such as malnutrition, overcrowding and extremely poor sanitation. Hospitals were struggling with increased illness but decreased patient counts and empty beds. Hospitals were loosing funding and many had to close. Nurses who were lucky enough to get a job had a large workload with little pay and restricted hours. To provide more job opportunities, hospitals changed shifts from two twelve hour shifts per day to three eight hour shifts to allow three nurses to work in each day instead of just two. It became common for many hospitals to restrict nurses to work a maximum of forty-eight hours per week.  On average, a nurse only made 15$ a month and in some cases had to resort to working for only room & board without salary. Hospitals favored student nurses because they could get away with paying them less.

In a hospital, the common nursing duties included scrubbing floors, washing screens, serving meals, caring for patients, cleaning equipment such as (needles, bed pans, bandages), stoking the furnace, and even painting the hospital rooms. The workload was heavy but nurses maintained a positive attitude as they were just grateful for the chance of employment.

The Great Depression immensely impacted nursing working conditions today. It’s what lead to the shift of nurses working as private duty nurses to working in a hospital setting. It changed the way hospital employed nurses were viewed and it impacted the workflow for nurses as supplies were scares causing a demand for creativity and a greater study in the art of nursing.

The Great Depression was such a hard, stressful, and even scary time but really shifted the direction of nursing. I love working in a hospital and I’m glad that the view of a hospital nurse changed so greatly during this era. I would say that it flipped completely and hospital nursing is now a huge focus and is amazing today because of this time period. I feel so grateful that I didn’t have to work during the great depression. It would be so hard to wake up everyday knowing it could be your last of employment when you so greatly needed income. I feel glad that I chose a profession that seems to always have a need. Even during a time so devastating as the great depression, there was still a high need for nurses. Nursing definitely has a sense of job security because there will always be sick people who need medical attention in any situation. I’m very grateful times are better today and hope and pray that they always stay that way!

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