Dr Ernest Ceriani, the country doctor from Rocky Mountains, single-handedly tended to 2,000 residents in 1940s
He served as a physician, surgeon, pediatrician, psychiatrist, obstetrician, dentist, oculist and laboratory technician, all in one
Whilst we commend the bravery and work put forth by doctors and nurses during the ongoing pandemic, let's take a look at a selfless figure who similarly rendered his services and medical expertise to those in need in the 1940s. To the locals, Dr Ernest Ceriani, a rural physician based in Kremmling, Colorado, was a lifesaver. He was the only doctor within 400 square miles and was on call for 2,000 residents in the area. He served as a physician, surgeon, pediatrician, psychiatrist, obstetrician, dentist, oculist and laboratory technician, all in one. This man was a miracle worker for most and knew that the lives of these people depended upon him and often went without rest so he could be of service to anyone that came to him for medical consultancy.
His life story was immortalized by a photographer named W Eugene Smith through his photo essay titled 'Country Doctor' that featured in LIFE Magazine in 1948. He had spent 23 days trailing and chronicling the day-to-day routine of Dr Ceriani.
Dr Ceriani was born in 1916 in a sheep ranch in Wyoming and studied in the Loyola School of Medicine, Chicago. He served in the Navy and later was offered a job in Kremmling, following which he moved there with his wife who was from Colorado. Even seven decades after Smith published his photo essay, the pictures still ring powerfully in the present scenario and resonate with the selfless services provided by healthcare workers today. Of course, the medical field has come a long way since the 1940s, and the world encompasses millions of doctors and medical workers worldwide, but it is almost impossible to imagine how one person was responsible for the health and well-being of thousands of local citizens.
According to LIFE Magazine, “The nurses constantly [admonished] him to relax and rest, but because they [were] well aware that he [could not], they [kept] a potful of fresh coffee simmering for him at all hours.”
Initially, Dr Ceriani had little experience in pediatrics and hadn't known much about treating children. But after moving to Colorado, he had to study and research into pediatrics and did so whenever he possibly could because most of his patients were kids. Most of his consultants required to do house or ranch calls, for which he would bring along his medical bag, which was equipped with everything he would need.
'Doc' as he was fondly known around the community was dedicated to his practice and would often drop any plans for his leisure just so he could attend to a patient or do housecalls. He knew the community depended on him and he listened to their problems while giving his sound judgments and diagnosis. He wasn't a medical practitioner doing his job for the sake of his livelihood, but he was dedicated to the field of medicine and made it his passion to treat those in need of his expertise. He truly cared about his ailing patients and worked to better his community and transform their health significantly.
“His income for covering a dozen fields is less than a city doctor makes by specializing in just one, but Ceriani is compensated by the affection of his patients and neighbors, by the high place he has earned in his community and by the fact that he is his own boss. For him, this is enough," reported LIFE Magazine in 1948.
LIFE Magazine honored him with a full-length article, which comprised in-depth information about Ceriani's life as a doctor and practicing medicine in a remote area, like the Rocky Mountains. From treating locals and delivering children to serving tourists and major surgeries, the American public learned of a frontline hero and his humanity.
Dr Ceriani was a general practitioner until 1986 when he retired at the age of 69. He died two years later in Kremmling, Colorado.