Nursing during the Great Depression


University of California – San Francisco

Results of Widespread Unemployment
Hospitals instituted entirely new rules for scheduling. Previously, most nurses were expected to work at least 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week (sound familiar?). Now, hours were cut back to eight hours a day, with no more than 48 hours in a week. This policy change allowed more nurses to be employed. General duty staffing became the norm. But some staff did still serve as private duty nurses, caring for just one patient at a time. With funding low, nurses often had to use whatever equipment was available to help patients pull through. Just like today, seeing a patient get well was the best reward.

Ida Carthel, RN: “I did private duty nursing for a two-year-old child, a beautiful little girl from a nearby town. A rattlesnake had bitten her several times on her legs. We had to stay with her because she was delirious. You know how you’ve heard they do these ‘X’ marks to suck the venom out of the patient’s flesh? We used breast pumps for that and it worked. You call that improvising, and we did! She recovered…she was such a doll.”

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