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More Than 120 Years of Johnson & Johnson Support for Nurses

Frontline health workers play an essential and innovative role in ensuring strong, resilient health systems across the world. With their proximity to patients and expertise in clinical innovation, nurses are one of these groups of frontline health workers who play a central role in health care. At Johnson & Johnson, nurses have filled important roles as employees since the 1890s, and the company has a long heritage of support for nursing going back to the 19th century. In that era, both the founding of Johnson & Johnson and the birth of the modern profession of nursing were inspired by advancements in science and the growing use of data.

Print of a painting of Florence Nightingale commissioned by Johnson & Johnson in 1946 in recognition of her contribution to nursing.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Like the practice of surgery, the profession of nursing dates to the ancient world, but it was not until the 19th century that it underwent a radical change that caused it to be seen as a scientific, data-driven profession. That change was due in large part to a nurse-innovator, Florence Nightingale.  In 1854, Nightingale and a team of nurses arrived in Turkey to treat injured soldiers in the military hospital at the British camp in Scutari during the Crimean War.

Encampment of the 71st Regiment at Balaclava commissariat camp during the Crimean War, Ukraine Balaklava, 1855, photographed by Roger Fenton. Image courtesy: Library of Congress.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Hospital conditions in Scutari were primitive. Contagious diseases like typhus, cholera and dysentery spread through the ranks of the wounded, causing more soldiers to die from disease than from their injuries. Under Nightingale’s leadership, the nurses improved sanitation, patient care and diet and increased patient survival rates to a dramatic degree. A data enthusiast, Nightingale used pioneering data visualization techniques to illustrate these improvements in patient outcomes and build an airtight case for better sanitation in hospitals and better training for nurses. Florence Nightingale opened the first professional nurse training school in London, and her 1859 book, Notes on Nursing, is still read today.

Anna Bell Stubbs, Civil War nurse, caring for wounded soldiers at No. 1 Nashville Hospital / Morse's Gallery of the Cumberland, 25 Cedar St., opposite the Commercial Hotel, Nashville, Tenn., image courtesy: Library of Congress.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

Professional nurse training schools began to be opened in the United States after the Civil War, improving educational opportunities and science-based training for nurses.  Fred Kilmer, Johnson & Johnson Scientific Director from 1889-1934, helped support the nursing school at St. Peter’s Hospital in the company’s hometown of New Brunswick, funding the purchase of books, classroom materials, and more after the school was founded in 1908. Kilmer created the first sterile industrial manufacturing facility in the late 1880s and early 1890s at Johnson & Johnson to manufacture sterile surgical products, and nurses played a central role. With its emphasis on sterility and cleanliness, its non-porous sterilizable surfaces and abundant windows and light, the architecture and practices of the Johnson & Johnson Aseptic Department were a radical departure from standard Victorian manufacturing facilities. Employees had to undertake rigorous study and pass an exam before qualifying to work in the department and had to adhere to a standard of asepsis not yet practiced by most surgeons in that era.

Johnson & Johnson Aseptic Department employees washing their hands before work, undated photo circa 1890s-1900.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

While many surgeons still operated in filthy frock coats without washing their hands, Johnson & Johnson Aseptic Department employees wore sterile uniforms, scrubbed their hands before going to work, and had to demonstrate a thorough understanding of germ theory. So who better to manage these rigorous rules for asepsis than graduates of the new nurse training schools?  In 1897, the team of nurses in the Aseptic Department was led by Elizabeth W., who had graduated from one of these schools in New York. Elizabeth and her team were responsible for ensuring that Aseptic Department employees maintained the rigorous rules for aseptic manufacturing, and they oversaw the sterility and quality of the products.

Ad showing sterile suture labeling signed by nurse-employee Elizabeth W., from an early Johnson & Johnson professional publication.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

The importance of Elizabeth’s role is highlighted by the fact that she was the only other person besides Scientific Director Fred Kilmer with the authority to sign her name to the sterility seals on the company’s dressings and sutures. An early ad for the company’s sterile sutures featured a label stating “Sterilized, packaged and sealed under my direction,” signed by Elizabeth W., graduate surgical nurse. The centrality of nurses to the company’s pioneering sterile manufacturing is further shown by an early undated photograph of the Aseptic Department. Displayed on a wall at the center of the photograph is a nursing diploma from the professional nurse training school in New York that Elizabeth attended.

The Johnson & Johnson Aseptic Department, with a nursing diploma on the wall, showing the central role nurses played in the company’s early sterile manufacturing.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

During World War I, Katherine Hannan, another nurse-employee, volunteered to serve as a U.S. Army nurse. Stationed as head nurse in an evacuation hospital in Siberia during the war, Katherine and her team of nurses treated soldiers stricken with influenza during the 1918 pandemic.  

Dr. Cooke’s Maternity Packet, a set of supplies for childbirth, used by nurses and midwives to make childbirth safer for mothers and infants, early 20th c.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

From the beginning, nurses were among the frontline health workers who used many of the company’s products to provide care – sterile surgical products, maternity kits, dressings and bandages, as well as educational materials like the 1888 sterile surgery manual, Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment and the 1901 prenatal and infant care booklet Hygiene in Maternity. In 1921, the launch of BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages saw Johnson & Johnson directing advertising for the new product – the first premade commercial dressing for small wounds – toward nurses. 

Nursing Journal ad for BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages, 1922.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

During the 20th century, an operating unit of Johnson & Johnson also produced products specifically for nursing, including surgical and nursing caps.  These products were a familiar and trusted part of nurses’ professional lives.

“J” Cap for nurses, made by a Johnson & Johnson operating unit in 1958.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

General Robert Wood Johnson, who led Johnson & Johnson from 1932 to 1963, believed nurses should have a greater role in patient care and should be given greater responsibility, and he spurred the creation of several programs to help elevate the professional standing of nurses in the mid-20th century. Years later, Johnson’s interest in nursing inspired the founding of the Johnson & Johnson Wharton School Fellows Program for Nurse Executives at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1953, Johnson & Johnson instituted an annual nursing scholarship program. Five decades later, the company inaugurated the Campaign for Nursing’s Future in 2000 to address a critical nursing shortage in the U.S. by recruiting new nurses and nurse faculty and helping to retain nurses currently in the profession. Today, the company’s more than 120-year support for nursing continues with a focus on supporting and elevating the impact of nursing by championing nurse-led innovation, reflecting the long partnership between the company and the nursing profession, as well as their shared roots in innovation and caring. This support includes the founding of the Center for Health Worker Innovation in 2020, the creation of innovation challenges to share new ideas for treatments, protocols and devices that could profoundly change human health; and resources and career guidance to build skills, develop leaders and advance nurse-led innovation in healthcare for nurses at every stage of their careers -- as the company’s support for nursing – and all frontline health workers, which began so long ago in the 19th century, continues in the 21st century.

Image courtesy: Johnson & Johnson Archives

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