“New Heights of Inventiveness”: Nurses and the Innovation of Procedure Trays, 1920–1960

Tuesday, November 13, 2018
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture by Amanda L. Mahoney, Public History Fellow at the Science History Institute. 

This talk will examine how nurses developed and maintained procedure trays—prearranged sets of the equipment needed to perform standardized nursing or medical procedures—in the mid-20th-century hospital. Though largely invisible, this work was scientific, innovative, and crucial to the translation of new medical knowledge into viable patient interventions. The unseen, often uncredited constellation of work that surrounded procedure trays made patient care possible in the understaffed hospitals of the mid-20th century. The use of procedure trays put nurses in control of how procedures were performed in the clinic, provided a teaching and learning tool for new-to-practice nurses and physicians, and put nurses in charge of hundreds of critical decisions. Nurses created their own systems for getting the work of patient care done in mid-20th-century hospital wards. The development and successful implementation of new nursing systems as embodied in procedure trays were critical in order for new medical knowledge to be applied effectively at the bedside.

About the Speaker

Amanda L. Mahoney is the Institute’s public history fellow in 20th-century clinical medicine and employs the organization’s museum collections to engage our many audiences with the history of the health and life sciences. Her work fosters dialogue on the often fraught relationship between science, society, and the body, and challenges clinicians and scientists to think critically about the influence of historical, social, and cultural context on their practice. Mahoney builds exhibitions, programs, social media, and conference workshops that explore the connections between science, clinical practice, and health-related technologies. Her work also promotes the value of material culture as a scholarly resource and teaching tool.

She recently completed her doctorate at the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation examines the critical role of nurses at work in important clinical trials during the 1930s through 1960s. In the era before formal study protocols, nurses shouldered the responsibility of ensuring high-quality scientific data through their authority over the patient bedside. Nurses also drew on their extensive technological and social skills to implement experimental technologies such as feeding pumps in the understaffed hospitals of the mid-20th century. 

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.