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24 Vintage Pictures of Doctors At Work

In honor of National Doctor’s Day, here’s a look at all the ways the job has changed—but mostly stayed the same. Images all courtesy of The Library of Congress.

Exams

The long wait, examination bed, fluorescent lights, they're all the same today as they were long ago. Here's how a basic exam would go over seventy years ago...pretty much the same as it goes today.

Both now and then, doctor appointments would start out with a review of the patient’s vital signs like Doctor Buck did to this precious little boy back in 1940, as photographed by Marion Wolcott.

When the patient was sick, the doctor would take out his wooden stick and look down their throat, something we’ve all experienced first hand. Image taken by Russell Lee in 1941.

If something hurt, the doctor would take a closer look at it the way this doctor examined his patient’s fractured arm in 1942. Image taken by Arthur Rothstein.

No one has ever enjoyed getting their shots, as you can tell by this picture, taken in 1941 by Russell Lee.

Once a diagnosis was made, the patient would get a prescription, just as they do today, although these kinds of things have become much more computerized in the last decade. Image shot by John Collier in 1943.

Of course, for the little ones, doctor’s appointments tend to end on a positive note with a lovely lollipop. So yes, even your grandmother was bribed into getting her shots as this 1942 image by John Vachone confirms.

Surgery

While surgical techniques have changed drastically over the last seventy years, operating rooms look largely the same, especially to laymen.

Of course, one of the most important parts of any surgery now or then is the scrubbing up before hand. After all, the last things you want around open holes in the human body are germy hands. Image taken by Russell Lee in 1941.

Emergency tracheotomies are nothing new, as this 1942 image by Fritz Henle shows. Just like today, the area around the operating site is covered in sterile cloth and the nurse readies the next tool to help expedite the surgical process.

Presentations

Just as today, doctors don’t spend all their time with patients; they also have to do plenty of presentations.

Here you see a doctor presenting a paper to members of the Board of Directors for the Greenbelt Maryland Medical Association, photographed by Marion Wolcott in 1939. These presentations look just as dull nowadays as they did back then.

Just as they do today, doctors also provide presentations to members of the public to help them improve their health or better respond to emergencies. In this image, taken by Russell Lee in 1942, a doctor shows a pressure spot to help stop arterial bleeding during a first aid class.

Research

Similarly, many doctors focus their careers exclusively on research and development of new treatments rather than on helping people who are already injured or sick.

These three gentlemen are testing out a new style of respirator on a lab rabbit. While there is no date on this specific image, it seems to have been taken some time around 1890.

To develop a vaccine for typhus, doctors first had to collect ticks from around the world to ensure they had every possible strain of the disease. Here is Doctor Cooley of the United States Health Service Rocky Mountain Laboratory with his collection, as photographed by John Vachon in 1942.

Doctor Herrald R. Cox then was able to develop a vaccine using the eggs from Dr. Cooley’s collection, also shot by Mr. Lee.

Offices

These days, most medical offices look like sterile office buildings or hospitals, but in the early half of the last century, they had a lot more style and flavor.

Granted, you probably wouldn’t really want to visit this quack doctor’s office, but it’s hard to deny that his sign was far more inviting than anything you’ll see today. And, in case you were wondering, even photographer Arthur Rothstein labeled this doctor as a quack when he shot this image in Pittsburgh back in 1938.

Dr. J.W. Faulk’s sign was far classier than the quack doctor’s sign, photographed in Louisiana by Russell Lee in 1938, giving you a fair indication that he was a much more reliable medical professional. There’s something welcoming about this sign that would be nice to see even today.

In a few tiny towns that have changed little throughout the years, you still might actually see a doctor’s office that looks just like this one, but for the most part, cozy offices like this are a thing of the past when it comes to the medical industry. Image taken in Louisiana by Marion Wolcott in 1940.

Female and Minority Doctors

Yes, it was uncommon to have a female or African American doctor before the civil rights movement, but it was still possible. Unlike today though, these doctors would often be limited to only work with specific types of patients –women doctors usually worked exclusively with women and children and African American doctors were generally limited to working on patients of their own race.

This large group of female doctors would have been a rarity at any hospital, were it not for the fact that this image was taken in 1919, shortly after WWI ended. Since most male doctors were shipped overseas, the war period was quite a boom for females in the medical industry. Unfortunately, the end of the war meant that most of these women would most likely be fired shortly after this photo was taken to make room for their male counterparts who had just returned from the field.

Dr. Kate B. Karpeles here was quite extraordinary as she was one of the only female doctors to be contracted by the Army during WWI. When this picture was taken in 1938, she was serving as the president of the American Medical Women’s Association and was actively petitioning congress to allow women to serve in the Army on an equal basis with men during times of national emergency.

This doctor offered public health services through the Farm Security Administration to babies of migratory mothers who traveled to work on the pea harvest in Imperial Valley. Famed photographer Dorothea Lange captured this image in 1939 as part of her work with the FSA.

This doctor performed similar services for New Jersey’s agricultural workers through the FSA although he had his own private practice in town as well. Image taken by John Collier in 1942.

The concept of separate but equal facilities covered all areas of life and business. Here is an African American doctor looking after one of his patients in one of Chicago’s “blacks only” hospitals as photographed by Russell Lee in 1941.

Home Visits

For all the areas where the medical profession has remained the same, here’s one way it has changed. These days, it seems only millionaires can afford to have a doctor visit them at home, but only a short while ago, the practice was fairly common, particularly in more rural areas.

This South Carolina family needed malaria medication and their local clinic doctor was happy to bring it by their house for them. Image taken by Marion Wolcott 1939.

Here we see Doctor Tabor giving little Roscoe Loudin an exam in the comfort of his own home crib, as captured by Arthur Rothstein in 1941.

While most adults don’t mind having to visit the doctor’s office here and there, it’s easy to see how much more comforting an at-home visit would be for a sick child like this one photographed by John Vachon in 1942.

I know we have plenty of doctors reading the site, so do any of you have any thoughts on how your field has changed or stayed the same throughout the years? And for the rest of you, have you noticed any big differences in the care you’ve received since you were a youngster?

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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iStock
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science
8 Unexpected Activities People Have Done in MRI Scanners for Science
iStock
iStock

In medicine, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to show what's happening inside the body, producing dynamic images of our internal organs. Using similar technology that tracks blood flow, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans can show neuroscientists neural activity, indicating what parts of the brain light up when, for instance, a person thinks of an upsetting memory or starts craving cocaine. Both require staying within a massive MRI machine for the length of the scan.

There's some controversy over how scientists interpret fMRI data in particular—fMRI studies are based on the idea that an increase of blood flow to a region of the brain means more cellular activity there, but that might not be a completely accurate measure, and a 2016 report found that fMRI studies may have stunning rates of false positives.

But we're not here to talk about results. We're here to talk about all the weird, weird things scientists have asked people to do in MRI machines so that they could look at their brains and bodies. From getting naked to going to the bathroom, people have been willing to do some unexpected activities in the name of science. Here are just a few of the oddest things that people have done in scanners at the behest of curious researchers.

1. SING OPERA

Researchers once invited world-famous opera singer Michael Volle to sing inside an MRI at the University of Freiburg in Germany. The baritone sang a piece from Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser as part of a 2016 study on how the vocal tract moves during singing at different pitches and while changing volume. The study asked 11 other professional singers with different voice types to participate as well. They found that the larynx rose with a singer's pitch, but got lower as the song got louder, and that certain factors, like how open their lips were, correlated more with how loud the singer was than how high they were singing. The scientists concluded that future research on the larynx and the physical aspects of singing should take loudness into consideration.

That study wasn't the first to take MRI images of singers. In 2015, researchers at the University of Illinois demonstrated their technique for recording dynamic MRI imaging of speech using video of U of I speech specialist Aaron Johnson singing "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz.

2. REACT TO ROBOT-DINOSAUR ABUSE

Stills of a video in which a robot gets petted or beaten by a human
Stills from the videos participants watched of robot dinosaurs being treated kindly or unkindly.
Rosenthal-von der Pütten et al., Computers in Human Behavior (2014)

To test whether or not humans can feel empathy with robots for a 2013 study, researchers put participants into an fMRI machine and made them watch videos of humans and robotic dinosaurs. The videos either included footage of the human or robot being stroked or tickled, or the subject being beaten and choked. The brain scans showed similar activity for people viewing both videos, suggesting that people might be able to feel similar empathy for robots as for people.

3. PLAY VIDEO GAMES WITH A MEAN-SPIRITED A.I.

Two brain scans
Eisenberger et al., Science (2003)

To see whether the brain responds to emotional pain in similar ways to physical pain, researchers asked participants in a 2003 study to experience social rejection within an fMRI machine. During the scans, participants played a virtual ball-tossing game against two other players—whom they believed to be other study participants in other scanners—by watching a screen through goggles and pressing one of two keys to toss the ball to one of the other players. They were actually playing against a computer that was programmed to eventually exclude the human player. At some point during the game, the computer-controlled players stopped throwing the human player the ball, causing them to feel excluded and ignored. The researchers found that the excluded study subjects showed brain activation in regions similar to the ones seen in studies of physical pain.

4. POOP

Watching people poop through MRI imaging is a surprisingly common medical technique. It's called magnetic resonance defecography. Doctors use it to diagnose issues with rectal function, analyzing how the muscles of the pelvis are working and the cause of bowel issues. The scan involves having ultrasound jelly and a catheter inserted into your butt, donning a diaper, and crawling inside an MRI scanner. Then, on command, you clench your pelvic muscles in various ways as ordered by the doctor, eventually resulting in pooping out the ultrasound jelly and whatever else you might need to evacuate. No pressure.

5. HAVE SEX …

MRI of a woman before, pre-, and after orgasm
MRI images of a woman at rest, in a pre-orgasmic phase, and 20 minutes after orgasm (L–R)
Schultz et al. in BMJ, 1999

Scientists have also recorded MRI body scans of couples having sex. In the late '90s, Dutch researcher Pek Van Andel and his colleagues at the University Hospital Groningen asked eight couples to come into their lab on a Saturday and have sex in the tube of an MRI scanner in order to analyze how genitals fit together during heterosexual intercourse. Despite the surroundings, they apparently had a fine time. "The subjective level of sexual arousal of the participants, men and women, during the experiment was described afterwards as average," the study noted.

Meanwhile, other researchers are trying to capture scientific images of sex in different, sometimes even more awkward ways. For her 2008 book Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Sex And Science, science writer Mary Roach and her husband had sex in a lab at University College London while a researcher stood next to them and held an ultrasound wand to her abdomen.

6. … AND HAVE ORGASMS

Scan of a woman's brain during orgasm
Wise et al., The Journal of Sexual Medicine (2017)

Scientists still don't know all that much about how orgasms work, so various studies have asked participants to come into the lab, lay down in an fMRI scanner, and stimulate themselves to orgasm. (A reporter at Inside Jersey went to Rutgers to take part in the university's orgasm research herself in 2010. She brought her own sex toy, but the lab was kind enough to provide the lube.)

Over the course of their work, Rutgers researchers have found that when people bring themselves to orgasm within an fMRI machine, it activates more than 30 brain systems, including ones that you wouldn't think would be involved in getting off, like the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with problem solving and judgment.

7. COMPOSE MUSIC

A musical score with just a few notes on it
Lu et al., Scientific Reports (2015)

Singers aren't the only music professionals to get inside an fMRI machine for science. For a study published in 2015, 17 young composers were asked to create a piece of music while Chinese researchers examined their brain activity. While all of them played the piano, they were asked to compose a piece for an instrument none of them know how to play—the zheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument. They were given a musical staff with just a few introductory notes already written as inspiration and asked to come up with something from there. As soon as they exited the scanner, they wrote down the notes they had imagined during the imaging process. The researchers found that the composers' visual and motor cortex showed less activity than usual, the opposite of what researchers have seen in studies of musical improvisation.

8. HAVE AN OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE

Four brain scans with different areas of the brain lit up in red, yellow, and orange
Activated portions of the brain during an out-of-body experience
Smith and Messier, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2014)

In a 2014 study, psychologists at the University of Ottawa recruited an undergraduate student who reported that she could have out-of-body experiences at will to do so within the confines of an fMRI scanner.

"She was able to see herself rotating in the air above her body, lying flat, and rolling along with the horizontal plane," the researchers wrote. "She reported sometimes watching herself move from above but remained aware of her unmoving 'real' body."

She entered the scanner six times, reporting out-of-body experiences that included feeling as if she were above her body and spinning or rocking side-to-side. The researchers found that the experience activated regions of her brain associated with kinesthetic imagery, the feeling of visualizing movement (as athletes often do during training and competitions, for instance), and a deactivated the visual cortex.

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