Thursday, December 13, 2007

Medical practice after World War II

In studying changes in medical culture and practice through time, we often find a wealth of interesting information in the records of medical societies. Societies, which both regulate and reflect the ethics and ideals of the local population, can often capture a prevailing mood in new initiatives, conference themes, or membership questionnaires. An example of the last of these from the Oregon State Medical Society Papers (Accession 1997-003) provides a snapshot of the changing landscape of medical practice in Oregon at the close of the Second World War.

Dated August 3-11, 1944, the questionnaire asked such questions as "Would you be able and willing to share space for a specified time, or stagger office hours, to accommodate a returning physician until he could find desirable space, as is planned in New York and some other cities?" and (for veterans) "Do you expect to precede your return to civilian practice with additional study or training other than a short refresher course?" (60% said yes to this)

One question echoed the concerns of returning vets and their families: "What do you anticipate will be the chief problems you will encounter in resuming civilian life?" The top two responses, nearly tied, were "rebuilding a practice" and "finances," while "readjustment from military to civilian medicine" received one vote and "socialized medicine" received six.

The questionnaire also took the pulse of the community on health insurance: "Realizing that the Oregon Physicians' Service is a professionally-sponsored experiment in providing a prepaid medical service (a) such as Oregon workers have come to expect, (b) that assists in forestalling the domination of medical practice by commercial medical service and insurance corporations or industrial interests, and (c) that meets the present nation-wide demand for an 'insurance' type of medical care, do you favor: A. continuing the organization, and B. extending the service to families?" (88% of the members were in favor of A, but only 52% were in favor of B).

The questionnaire folder also contains a typed summary of "comments [which] were received which have no bearing on any of the questions asked but which may be of interest." Included here is a demand that medical meetings have better presentations:
Tabloid papers should be demanded and required by those in charge of programs. Short, snappy, thought-provoking papers are what I would like to see adopted. I think the membership can stand the shock of it.
Ah, it is ever thus!

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