Ob.Gyn News Turns 50

A look back at 1966


As Ob.Gyn. News celebrates 50 years of publication, we’re taking a look back at our first year – 1966.

Not surprisingly, medicine looked a lot different in the mid-1960s, largely driven by the culture and technology of the time. A review of the 1966 issues of Obstetrics and Gynecology (the Green Journal), offers a snapshot of the state of the science.

With scientists still struggling to develop a rapid test to detect pregnancy, researchers from the Brookdale Hospital Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., detailed the possibility of using elevated breast temperature to get faster results. They compared 50 pregnant and 50 nonpregnant women and found a consistent rise in breast temperature in all pregnant women as early as 1 week after the first missed period. In the March issue, they concluded that the use of temperature difference between the breast and a baseline area on the anterior chest wall could be a rapid, simple, and accurate pregnancy test (Obstet Gynecol. 1966 Mar;27[3]:378-80).

In August, researchers from Australia published promising data on the use of ultrasonic echoscopic examination of the uterus in late pregnancy. They found that the technology was useful in determining fetal position and possible abnormalities and could be repeated as often as necessary to observe changes and growth. The big advantage, they noted, would be the opportunity to avoid excessive fetal exposure to x-rays (Obstet Gynecol. 1966 Aug;28[2]:164-9).

Advertising directed at physicians – in both the Green Journal and in Ob.Gyn. News – provided a glimpse into the practice of medicine at the time. Ob.gyns. saw ads for products such as Eskatrol – a capsule that contained dextroamphetamine sulfate and prochlorperazine – promoted to help women control appetite and “relieve the emotional stress that causes overeating.” And doctors also saw ads for oral contraceptives, first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960.

Ob.gyn. practice was different culturally as well. In a regular column titled “After Office Hours,” published in the Green Journal in January 1966, Dr. Malcolm S. Allan explored a relatively new idea – husband-attended deliveries. Dr. Allan, of Wesson Maternity Hospital in Springfield, Mass., explained that his hospital had conducted a nationwide survey of chiefs of obstetrics after they received a petition seeking to allow husbands into the delivery room, as well as more flexibility for fathers to room in with the mother and baby. The survey, which included responses from 267 hospitals, showed that 81% of hospitals did not allow husbands in the delivery room (Obstet Gynecol. 1966 Jan;27[1]:146-8).

After reviewing the survey results and talking to experts in the area, Dr. Allan and the leadership at Wesson decided not to allow husbands to witness deliveries. He concluded that “some patients in some of these ‘off-beat’ programs are being allowed to assume too much authority for determining the medical management of their pregnancies, while leaving the obstetrician with the responsibility for a healthy outcome.”

But in other ways, not much has changed since 1966. The March edition of “After Office Hours” bemoaned a looming manpower crisis in obstetrics (Obstet Gynecol. 1966 Mar;27[3]:449-52). Dr. Jan Schneider of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, wrote that even using conservative estimates of population growth, by 1970 there would be 20,000 obstetricians in the United States delivering on average of 225 babies each, a strain on the workforce. What were some of the factors? An uneven distribution of obstetricians throughout the country and increasing specialization.

In another familiar theme, Dr. Schneider urged physicians to consider team care as one part of the solution, allowing nurse midwives to provide prenatal care and perform normal deliveries under physician supervision.

Some of the clinical debates going on in 1966 are still unresolved. Consider the September 1966 issue of the Green Journal, which features an interim report on contraception with an intrauterine bow inserted immediately postpartum (Obstet Gynecol. 1966 Sep;28[3]:329-31). Five decades later, only about 12 state Medicaid programs cover the cost of insertion of an IUD immediately postpartum. And in the August 1966 issue of the Green Journal, Dr. Carl J. Pauerstein asked, “Once a Section, Always a Trial of Labor?” (Obstet Gynecol. 1966 Aug;28[2]:273-6). A look at the recent Master Class on vaginal birth after cesarean shows that those same questions are still being debated today.

So what will physicians and patients say about obstetrics and gynecology practice 50 years from now?

1966 at a glance

The Surgeon General

In a report to U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart titled “Protecting and Improving Health through the Radiological Sciences,” the National Advisory Committee on Radiation warned about emerging problems in the use of ionizing radiation in medicine.

Next Article: