Quiz: A Nurse Invented That? Inventiveness, Ingenuity, and Innovation in Nurses

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


June 06, 2014

An infant receiving phototherapy. Image by Dreamstime

Technically, this nurse discovered that sunlight reduces jaundice in newborn and premature infants -- the discovery that led to phototherapy, possibly the most common clinical treatment ever applied to newborn infants. Her name was Sister Jean Ward, and she was the nurse in charge of the Premature Unit at Rochford General Hospital in Essex, England.[1]

Sister Ward believed in the restorative powers of fresh air and sunshine for the babies under her care, so on sunny days, she would wheel the infants outdoors into the hospital courtyard, returning them to the nursery just before the doctors (who were not as keen on this practice) arrived for ward rounds. One day in 1956, Sister Ward showed the assembled physicians an undressed infant whose skin was pale except for a triangular area that appeared much yellower than the rest of its body.

Dr. RH Dobbs asked her whether she had painted the baby's skin with iodine. She denied having done so, telling him that what she held in her arms was a jaundiced infant whose skin color had faded in the sun, except for an area that had been covered by the corner of a sheet when outdoors.

Sister Ward's acute observation led directly to the development of phototherapy to treat jaundice in infants,[2] a treatment that is still in wide use today around the world and has saved millions of babies from the risk for bilirubin encephalopathy.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: