The Genesis of an Icon

July 20, 2022   |   PA

My wife Celia spent 35 years as a teacher. Fifteen of those years were devoted to teaching our two children, Matthew and Kristin; whereas, the next twenty years were devoted to teaching teenagers. Her favorite resource was the Oxford Dictionary and the teenagers had a game of hiding her desk copy. This was a solid foundation to all that she would teach in literature, architecture, and art appreciation. I utilized her edition to discover the meaning of icon and found the definition I was seeking: icon – a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol.

On July 1, 2013, the Saturday Evening Post introduced an article about an unknown woman, Mary Doyle Keefe, a young telephone operator in Arlington, Vermont. She had received a call from Norman Rockwell, the iconic American artist. He asked if she wouldn’t mind posing for the cover of the Post. She consented and was catapulted into fame as the image of the American woman and their mission on the Homefront during WWII.

On the evening of June 6, 1994, the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, Jay Leno did a special tribute on the Tonight Show. He introduced several WWll veterans and then presented his next guest, Mary Doyle Keefe. No longer an anonymous phone operator, Ms. Keefe will forever be Rosie the Riveter, as the model for the May 29, 1943 cover. Her motto, “WE can do it” gave vision and purpose to all Americans and was emblematic of the American woman.

Prior to WWII, most women stayed home and cared for the domestic needs of the family. When WWII materialized, many women volunteered to do jobs previously done by men. This change in the paradigm brought about employment for women and a discovery of a national treasure, in time of peace or war, the American woman. Rosie, not unlike GI Joe, became the icon of strength and willingness to serve.

The movie Rocky was a blockbuster as were the sequels. Why did Rocky become an icon to American youth, as well as to young people throughout the world? What did we admire in Rocky? He never gave up. When we decide to lie down, the fight is forever over. Victory is the action of not succumbing to our temporary weakened state by giving up, but by taking only one action: getting up.

James Corbett, a former Heavyweight Champion of the World and the only man to beat John Sullivan said: “Fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round…”

In the mid 1960’s, studies demonstrated that there would be a shortage of primary care providers in the United States and this coincided with the onset of the Vietnam War. The war would drain the pool of physicians even more as many became medical officers in the four branches of the Armed Forces. To remedy this shortage of physicians, Eugene A. Stead Jr, M.D. of the Duke University Medical Center, put together the first class of PAs in 1965. Simultaneously, in the same year at the University of Colorado, a nurse, Loretta Ford, and a physician, Henry Silver, M.D.  began the first NP program to meet the same needs. Interesting to note, is that this course of action that changed the practice of medicine and nursing in America was born in the womb of a military conflict, the Vietnam War.

In the early 1990’s, the male dominated PA profession took a turn and, within ten years, the profession had more females. The NP profession remained a female dominated profession but once again, due to the times and the educational advantages in our country, women realized that there was a great need for their gifts to be added to the PA profession. They demonstrated in the classroom, the dissection labs and the clinics that they were equal to the task. Today, slightly over 76% of the PA profession is female in gender with an average age of 29, and they are becoming the icon of healthcare today.

An ICU nurse from Vanderbilt Medical Center unwittingly became the icon of how medical and nursing personnel are treated unfairly and how the legal system can even bring criminal charges for medical malpractice. Like others who have been on the receiving end of a litigation, she didn’t lie down, she got up. She was honest, gave testimony explaining why this happened to both her patient and herself. She did all she could to give clarity to this problem in the future. When this nurse and mother stood up, tens of thousands of nurses, NPs, physicians, PAs and many others who work as advanced care providers, stood up in unity with her. I saw two significant developments with this case. Firstly, there is a need for healthcare providers to go beyond their institution’s malpractice coverage and purchase a personal liability insurance policy to be assured that their best interests are always being considered. Secondly, I saw the homogenization of all the healthcare professions in standing behind this nurse and in signing documents asking that the criminal penalties be dropped. Fortunately, there was success in the sentence that was brought forth.

What does it take to become an icon? Perhaps the words of Benjamin Disraeli are sufficient here: “The secret of success in life is for a man (or woman) to be ready for their opportunity when it comes.”

By: Robert M. Blumm, PA, DFAAPA, PA-C Emeritus
CM&F Clinical Advisor

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio 


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