'The most important problem in the hospital': Nursing in the development of the intensive care unit, 1950-1965

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Modern intensive care units (ICUs) have been described as unique spheres within the hospital environment, where advanced technology and specialised medical practice intersect in the care of physiologically unstable patients. Early ICUs in the United States, however, were a far more modest phenomenon. Faced with a mismatch of available nursing labour to growing demand for hospital services, hospital administrators in the 1950s seized upon the idea of the ICU as a means of concentrating the sickest patients in an area where they could be efficiently managed by a trained corps of specialist nurses. This article addresses the planning, staffing, and construction of ICUs in the United States during the 1950s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-638
Number of pages18
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010



  • ICU
  • intensive care unit
  • nursing

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