A remote doctor in 1948 Colorado

Every few years Eugene Smith’s classic Life magazine photostory is uncovered again.

See all the photos in better resolution (Time Magazine).

Commentary

It is an extraordinary record, beautifully captured, which follows a new young doctor, Ernest Ceriani, one year into his experience in rural America in the late 1940s. The item was a massive success with the public, portraying the dedicated practice of a single-handed doctor providing an extraordinarily wide range of services in a remote community. It captures the ups and downs, trauma and unpredictability of practice there.

The story was promoted by the American Medical Association, concerned about the future of private general practice, in the year that the NHS was created in the UK. Responses were mixed: Dr Ceriani said it made his life look much worse than the reality; the citizens that they came across as a backward civilisation; the AMA was upset that messages about wider issues were omitted; but the public was impressed, and Life Magazine delighted. It remains moving today.

Dr Ceriani’s story is somewhat reminiscent of Dr John Sassall in A Fortunate Man, a UK word-and-picture account of a single-handed rural practitioner in 1960s Britain. Which should be the feature of a future post.

Further info

Contributed by

Neil Turner

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