Johnson & Johnson: Celebrating Nurse Innovators Since 1897
By Margaret Gurowitz, Chief Historian, Johnson & Johnson
Our responsibility to nurses at Johnson & Johnson is called out in the first paragraph of Our Credo, the 1943 document that sets out the values that guide our Company, but like the modern profession of nursing, Johnson & Johnson was founded in the 1800s and driven by the idea that innovation in patient care could change human health. In the 1850s, Florence Nightingale, known as the founder of modern nursing, began her incredible career during the Crimean War by improving the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital, reducing the death count by two-thirds. Just a few decades later, Johnson & Johnson helped make surgery sterile and survivable for patients by developing the first mass-produced sterile surgical dressings and sutures in 1887.
To continue the development of those lifesaving products, Johnson & Johnson had to create a manufacturing clean room, which was made possible in 1897 with the help of a nurse. Johnson & Johnson employee Elizabeth Washam was the head nurse in the Company’s pioneering aseptic department, a position she was uniquely qualified for as a graduate of the Red Cross Hospital Training School in New York, founded by nursing pioneer Clara Barton to train nurses for her new American Red Cross. In an era when many surgeons still operated in street clothing without washing their hands, employees in the aseptic department were the first in the healthcare industry to wear sterile uniforms, and they normalized the practice of washing their hands, arms, and faces with antiseptic soap before entering the sterile environment. One of Elizabeth’s responsibilities was to ensure that employees in the aseptic department adhered to the strict rules for asepsis. She also was the only other person aside from Scientific Director Fred Kilmer authorized to sign the sterility seals on the packages of Johnson & Johnson’s sterile surgical dressings, a position of great responsibility.
Working alongside nurses like Elizabeth Washam gave everyone at Johnson & Johnson an appreciation of the quick thinking and innovative spirit of nurses. In 1946, Johnson & Johnson commissioned a painted portrait of Florence Nightingale, which was unveiled at a nursing convention and reproduced in one of the Company’s calendars for nurses. Copies were requested by nursing associations across the world, and it was hoped that the portrait would inspire future nurse innovators like Florence.
General Robert Wood Johnson, the visionary business leader who led Johnson & Johnson from 1932 to 1963, was also a lifelong supporter of nurses and sponsored several programs and scholarships to elevate the professional status of nurses. One of his ideas became the Johnson & Johnson Wharton School Fellows Program in Management for Nurse Executives at the University of Pennsylvania, the leading program of its kind in the United States. Another idea was an intensive refresher course for nurses returning from time away to raise families, designed to increase the numbers of the nursing workforce.
In 1950, Johnson & Johnson operating company Ethicon, Inc., partnered with surgical nurses to create yet another innovation years ahead of its time: the Ethicon Cat-A-Log, a booklet of cute cat photos with humorous captions – decades before the advent of cute animal photos took the Internet by storm. Ethicon supplied the cute cat pictures, the nurses wrote the captions, and the combination paid tribute to various healthcare topics and scenarios. The booklet was a huge hit among nurses in hospitals across the country, eventually evolving into a much sought-after and beloved calendar.
To further this historical commitment to nurses, Johnson & Johnson launched the Campaign for Nursing’s Future in 2002 to address the most profound nursing shortage in our nation’s history. The Campaign sought to bring more people into the nursing profession and to preserve the quality and availability of healthcare in the future.
Today, Johnson & Johnson is proud to continue to spotlight how nurses are bringing innovation to patient care that is profoundly changing human health through a renewed commitment to nurses. Since 1897, we have been finding ways to work with nurses to change the trajectory of human health, and today, we are pursuing our evolved direction focused on nurse advocacy, innovation, and empowerment.
For more information about Johnson & Johnson’s heritage of innovation, and support for nurses and others, please visit our online museum at ourstory.jnj.com. To learn more about some of the innovative pioneering nurses who have impacted patient outcomes throughout history, watch this extended cut of our new advertisements, which will premiere on television and on digital and social media channels in September.
Nurses change lives. And that changes everything.