Helen Lamb (1899 - 1979)

Helen Lamb
Helen Lamb, 1941

Helen Lamb was born on September 28, 1899 in Butler, Missouri, a small town about 60 miles south of Kansas City. She trained as a nurse at Christian Church Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, receiving her registered nurse license in 1921. She then moved to Cleveland to attend the Lakeside Hospital School of Anesthesia to train as a nurse anesthetist. After completing the six-month training, Lamb remained at Lakeside Hospital until 1927, when Dr. Evarts A. Graham, head of surgery at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, recruited her as his personal nurse anesthetist. Lamb administered and managed all of the anesthetics for Graham’s patients for over 20 years, including those used in the first successful pneumonectomy performed in 1933 by Dr. Graham.

In 1929 Barnes Hospital opened a School of Anesthesia with Helen Lamb as its director, a position she held until her retirement in 1952. The teaching program she created expanded from a four-month training program in 1929 to a two-year program in 1963. Graduates of the program were in demand nationally because of the rigorous training and high standards established by Lamb. In addition to her teaching and duties as Graham’s sole anesthetist, Lamb served as chief anesthetist of Barnes Hospital from 1929 to 1952.

In the 1930s advances in anesthesia and surgical techniques prompted surgeons and hospital administrators to call for anesthesia training standards. Lamb was involved in the establishment of the National Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 1931 and its efforts to set educational standards and form state associations of nurse anesthetists. Lamb was also a founding member of the Missouri Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 1935 and served as its first president. From 1940-42 she served as president of the national organization, which had changed its name to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).

Even though Dr. Graham exclusively used a nurse anesthetist, he advocated the establishment of a residency program in anesthesiology to train medical doctors and oversee nurse anesthesia training because of the many advances in the fields of anesthesia and surgery. In 1950 the Washington University School of Medicine hired an anesthesiologist to head the new program and take over as head of anesthesia at Barnes Hospital. Helen Lamb retired the following year.

Lamb was well-versed in pharmacology and physiology and how those disciplines related to anesthesia. She was one of the first nurse anesthetists in the United States to use endotracheal anesthesia. In 1976 Lamb received the AANA’s Agatha Hodgins Award for Outstanding Accomplishment. After Lamb’s death in 1979, the AANA established the Helen Lamb Outstanding Educator Award for her contributions to the establishment of the curriculum and minimum educational standards for schools of nurse anesthesia.

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