1. Barnett, Donald MD, chairman of the Historical Commission

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As one painting from a series commissioned in 1994 for a new wing at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, this portrait by Warren Prosperi depicts the administration of insulin by the first "wandering nurses." Originally from Deaconess Hospital (now part of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston), these women were "contracted" in 1925 by Joslin Diabetes Center founder Elliott P. Joslin, MD, to educate young diabetes patients and their families in Boston and New York City.


When insulin was first discovered in the 1920s, managing the disease required as many as four injections per day, strict dietary controls, and myriad other complicated details. For many, having a "live-in" nurse to manage these medical needs was viewed as desirable. Families needed to learn about nutrition, how to construct menus, and how to adjust insulin and general hygiene for the child or adolescent with diabetes during periods of activity and illness.


In this portrait, note the food scale on the kitchen table, along with Dr. Joslin's Diabetic Manual for the Mutual Use of Doctor and Patient, 4th edition, the first comprehensive guide for patients. These and other items in the portrait are actual period pieces from the Joslin Center's archive, incorporated by Prosperi to authenticate the scene. Nearby is a blue bottle containing Benedict's solution. This liquid turns different colors depending on the amount of sugar in the urine sample being tested. The apparatus for this procedure can be seen on top of the stove to the left of the family cook.


Today, the services of diabetes nurse educators, once the prerogative of "the privileged few," are open to all patients as part of the modern health care team that also includes dietitians, exercise physiologists, and others trained to help the patient and family manage the disease.


Donald Barnett, MD, chairman of the Historical Commission


Joslin Diabetes Center; developed by Joslin Diabetes Center's Historical Commission in consultation with Jeff Kennedy Associates