Today a child in need of medical attention encounters a full realm of medicine specifically designed to accommodate the special needs of children. It was not always so and it is due to the perseverance and empathy of a number of doctors that the realm of pediatrics developed in the United States. A relative newcomer to the annals of medical history, the concept of pediatrics as a distinct specialty first gained hold in Europe. However the end of WWII and advances in medicine brought a new focus on children. It marked the beginning of the biological phenomenon known as the “Baby Boom” lasting from 1946 (nine months after VJ Day) to 1964 a period that comprised the highest birth rate ever seen. Other consequences of the war brought about the mass vaccinations against smallpox, the manufacturing of penicillin and streptomycin mitigating a number of diseases that had accounted for over half of children’s deaths before age five. In 1955 Jonas Salk’s clinical trial of a polio vaccine was deemed successful and the iron lungs that had kept children in a kind of suspended animation were gradually retired.
Dr. Jessie L. Ternberg, a pioneering pediatric surgeon (b. 1924), understood the need to treat children differently from adults, noting that diseases take different forms in children. With the baby boom in full boom mode, Dr. Ternberg believed the time was ripe to address these differences. To revolutionize thinking in this regard required someone willing to persevere in overcoming the medical community’s disinclination to change. Dr. Ternberg had already succeeded in breaking down many barriers, as the first female surgical resident and first woman chief resident at Barnes Hospital in Saint Louis, the first female surgeon on the medical school faculty, as well as the first woman elected to head the medical school council. She was also the first woman to hold the position of President of the St. Louis Surgical Society. However she is most acclaimed as a pediatric surgeon, who reconceived and recalibrated the surgical arena to accommodate the special emotional and physical needs of children. Dr. Ternberg is recognized as major innovator in pediatric care and pediatric surgery in America.
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