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Roaring Twenties Articles

“The Roaring Twenties,” when those three words are heard what comes to mind? Probably flappers, prohibition, or gangsters quickly come to mind, but what about Band-Aids, insulin, or health insurance. Many life changing and lifesaving discoveries in medicine occurred in the 1920s. Some of the amazing discoveries were insulin for the treatment of diabetes, the Band-Aid for healing wounds, and the iron lung for the treatment of polio.

To keep up with these new medicines and treatments, the medical universities had to revamp their entry requirements and curriculum. Health insurance was developed to help defray the increase in costs of seeking medical treatment. The advancements during the 1920s in the medical field allowed for a better quality of life for everyone. With the expansion in technology and science research at universities and hospitals, several new discoveries were developed in the 1920s.

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One of the most outstanding discoveries was insulin for the treatment of diabetes because, “Before the discovery of insulin, a diagnosis of diabetes meant eventual coma and certain death, often with a lifespan of only one month to two years. Doctors eventually found that a near-starvation diet of a few hundred calories per day helped to extend some patients’ lives by a year or two” (Wickford). In 1921, Dr. Fredrick Banting and Charles Best, successfully tested a pancreatic extract that had anti-diabetic qualities on diabetic dogs.

Once they purified the insulin, the first person to receive insulin was a 14-year-old diabetic boy who was near death. After the first injection his blood sugar levels dramatically dropped and he soon regained his strength and his appetite. Insulin was considered a miracle drug and the demand was very high; “As soon as 1923, the firm was producing enough insulin to supply the entire North American continent. Although insulin doesn’t cure diabetes, it’s one of the biggest discoveries in medicine” (Discovery).

Insulin may not cure diabetes but it does prolong the life expectancy and allow a diabetic to live a normal life. Another medical invention in 1921 was the Band-Aid, which was developed by Earle Dickson, a cotton buyer for Johnson ; Johnson. Earle developed the product with the help of his accident prone wife; “His wife Josephine Dickson was always cutting her fingers in the kitchen while preparing food. Earle Dickson took a piece of gauze and attached it to the center of a piece of tape, and then covered the product with crinoline to keep it sterile”.

Another employee at Johnson ; Johnson is the one that comes up with a captivating name for the new product, Band-Aid. Band-Aids were not very profitable the first few years due mainly to its design; “The original bandages Johnson and Johnson produced, were not only handmade, but were rather large in size at 2 1/2″ in width, and 18″ in length” (Band-Aids), however when they redesigned the Band-Aid and made them smaller, sales skyrocketed. This simple invention made outstanding improvements in the prevention of infection in open wounds.

Where the Band-Aid helped to protect and heal a wound, the iron lung helped a person with polio to breath. Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord causing paralysis; “Nothing worked well in keeping people breathing until 1927, when Philip Drinker and Louis Shaw at Harvard University devised a version of a tank respirator that could maintain respiration artificially until a person could breathe independently, usually after one or two weeks” (Iron).

These were only a few of the many medical discoveries and breakthroughs that came about in the 1920s that helped improve the quality of life and increase life expectancy. In order to know how to prescribe the new medicines and utilize the new forms of treatment that were being developed and discovered, the medical schools had to make drastic changes in not only the entry requirements but also the curriculum taught at the schools.

By the 1920s, the push was to have medical education only taught at large universities rather than commercial medical schools, this way “Students now had to pass rigorous entrance requirements. In addition, state licensure of physicians began” (Brief). Before the 1920s, those interested in becoming doctors did not have to possess a high school education before entering medical school and in some cases they did not even go to school but instead were taught by another doctor in his office.

The changes and demands of medical students were highlighted in the following excerpt from a lecture given at John Hopkins University on January 28, 1924: This is the age of the laboratory–chemical, physical and. pathologic-of technical diagnosis, and with the disappearance of the general practitioner in favor of the specialist, neglect of the art of medicine and habit of critical observation and of self-reliance which characterized the previous generation of physicians.

The medical profession as a whole and medical educators are just awakening to the fact that what will be demanded of the future physician, indeed is now called for by daily increasing numbers of people, is practical scientific advice on how to keep well, avoid disease and prolong life; and whether or not the medical student of the future intends to devote his life to the service of public health, he will not be abreast of the times unless he has been taught to think in terms of etiology of all pathologic conditions which he encounters and of means by which they could have been prevented.

With the increase in requirements and education the cost of earning a medical degree also increased according to the University of Pennsylvania archives the annual cost had gone from $650 in 1920 to $1200 in 1929. Even though there was a steep initial cost to earn a medical degree, the doctor would quickly recoup that cost because according to Baylor University, “The average gross income of physicians in 1929 was $9000 per year at a time when the average family income was $1700 per year” (Gore).

The changes that were put in place in the 1920s greatly improved the medical profession. The discoveries of new medicines, treatments, and the increase in cost of earning a medical degree the combination of all these factors caused the cost of obtaining medical care to rise, which in turn prompted the development of modern day health insurance. During the 1920s an estimated 4% of the gross domestic product was consumed by health care. Of that 4%, “The amount spent for physician services was the largest portion, accounting for 29. 8? of each dollar, followed by hospital care 23. 4? , medications 18. 2? , dental care 12. 2? , and nursing care 5. 5?” (Gore).

On average, a family with an annual income of $1700 was spending about $68 per year for medical expenses. Several Families were unable to afford the cost of the new medicines and treatments until Dr. Justin Kimball, an administrator at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas, devised a health insurance plan, “He realized that many schoolteachers were not paying their medical bills.

In response to this problem, he developed the Baylor Plan – teachers were to pay 50 cents per month in exchange for the guarantee that they could receive medical services for up to 21 days of any one year” (Zhou). Dr. Kimball’s plan served as a model for the later Blue Cross plans. These pre-paid health insurance plans not only allowed families to receive medical treatment they also, “Benefited hospitals by giving them steady income despite economic turmoil. However, these single-hospital plans also generated price competition, and to avoid this, community hospitals started to work together in creating health coverage plans” (Zhou).

With health insurance easing the burden of paying for medical care this allowed families to seek medical attention they needed and also assured hospitals that the medial care provided would be paid for. The 1920s saw amazing advancements in the medical field and the development of health insurance; these laid the groundwork for vast improvements in medicine during the twentieth century.

Health insurance not only gave people a means to afford medical care, but it allowed hospitals to continue medical research since they had a continual flow of income. Medical care during the 1920s became more accessible to the majority of the population once health insurance was introduced; with more people seeking medical treatment the medical field started putting more emphasis on preventative care. The Roaring Twenties was definitely a thriving and busy era in medicine. With all the new developments, not only was the quality of life improved but also the life expectancy increased.

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