Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

The Beginning of a Professional Career

After we moved into a larger house in Brooklyn, New York, our home life became a little easier. Occasionally, refugee friends from Europe lived with us for shorter or longer periods, but in 1940 the escape route from Europe had been almost closed with the German invasion of Belgium and France. I started to look around for a part-time position to supplement our income. Personal contact was and still is important in finding employment. I visited one of the officials of the Academy of Medicine, whom I had met at a meeting. After I told him my story, he picked up a telephone and spoke to the commissioner of health of New York City, and pronto, I was given a position in the eye department of the New York City health department. This was my first experience of the power of personal
connections. The New York City Department of Health is probably the best in the country. It has branches in all districts, so that the people have easy access to health care in their neighborhoods. It included prenatal care, baby health stations, tuberculosis and venereal disease prevention and treatment, and eye clinics for school children. The children’s’ vision was tested by school nurses, and if, after evaluation, a problem was identified, a referral to the eye clinics was given, unless parents chose to use a private physician. My first clinics were in a school in Chinatown and in central Harlem. I enjoyed working with the Chinese children, whom I found polite, friendly and cooperative. I once asked a Chinese mother how children were raised in their community. She replied, that they were never punished by corporal means, since they were taught to have respect for their elders and were surrounded by love. I wonder if this is still true today. In Harlem, the health department branch was situated on 5th Avenue and 135 street behind Harlem hospital. At that time the streets were clean, the houses well maintained, and one did not have fear walking in the neighborhood. There was no drug problem at that time. Mothers brought their children to the clinic. Many of the little I girls were dressed in their Sunday best. We were overworked and I would see as many as twenty children in al morning session, but I always tried to form some kind of personal relationship with the children, so that thy would lose their fear. Parents had to buy the prescribed glasses. Prestige or social status was associated with the type of frame a child had; these were shown off to friends. Only the children whose parents were on home relief received free glasses and they could be recognized by their cheap round frames. Children felt degraded by them and after getting in touch with neighborhood opticians they cooperated, agreeing to dispense more fashionable frames. Patients with opthomologicai pathology were referred to hospital clinics.

I worked for the health department for twenty-eight years and was sent to all districts of New York City, except Staten Island, which I refused. I enjoyed working with the children and never had a bad experience when examining them. I hope I helped them to accept a handicap, since wearing glasses for a child can be a troublesome experience. I learned some Spanish so that I would be able to communicate with the Spanish--speaking parents, but soon found that the children were bilingual and translated what I said; my poor Spanish was rarely needed.

Next time I want to discuss the problem which every professional woman has to solve for herself, namely, how to combine a professional career with private life, a question that faced me at the beginning of the Second World War.


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