Memo concerning the nurse aides assistance in the hospital

1st Page

Elizabeth Vickers, R.N. and Senior Chief Nurse, wrote this letter on August 14, 1943 to Sally Lucas Jean concerning the Nurse Aide Program in the Poston Health Service while stationed at the Poston General Hospital in Poston, Arizona.  In her letter, Vickers updates Jean on the program’s progress with training Japanese American women in the nursing field at the Poston General Hospital and the surrounding areas.  She continues to describe what hospital services the nurse aides had experienced in the training, including the following areas: medical, surgical, obstetrics, pediatrics, tuberculosis, communicable diseases, operating room, diet kitchen, and clinic.  The most salient of all topics mentioned in this letter is the appraisal given by Elizabeth Vickers of the Japanese American nurse aides.

The majority of the letter expands upon the significant presence of the nurse aides and how their presence positively affects the hospital staff, the patients, and Elizabeth Vickers herself.  She gives the nurse aides full credit for most achievements made by the hospital services, such as “the preparation and serving of around one hundred thousand meals” and “the examinations and treatments given in 52,674 patient visits”.  Poston was made for a capacity of ten thousand, but held over thirteen thousand.  At twenty-one meals a week, for about ninety-five patients, one hundred thousand meals would have totalled for one year’s worth — meaning that the nurse aides provided a steady amount of assistance because that is one year that the WRA could not afford to handle without their help.  Following these accomplishments made by the nurse aids, Vickers continuously compliments their character and work ethic she observed in their training and during the tough times they most regularly faced in the hospital – “always with the smile that indicated real interest in the job at hand and the spirit of determination to do”.  At the end of her letter, Vickers explains that she is “not ashamed to say that many of us in the trained personnel group borrowed courage from the excellent spirit shown by the nurse aides and from that, undoubtedly, carried on more efficiently ourselves”.  Her words portray the nurse aides in a good light because she does not refer to them as Japanese Americans, eliminating the bias between Japanese and Caucasian races.  Another way she portrays the nurse aides positively is by complimenting them on their spirit and how that spirit benefitted the other medical workers.  She appreciates their service because without them, many patients would not have been cared for.

Kiyoko Tatsukawa, a Poston nurse aid, smiles while administering medications to patients in her charming nurse uniform. Due to a lack of medical care, nurse aides were needed in the camps to keep the hospitals running.

The presence of the nurse aides was crucial for the survival of many patients in the camps because there was a “lack of medical care contributed to extensive disease and death” (PJD 20).  Administrative motives behind providing Japanese Americans with jobs in the hospital were that help was needed in these institutions and that these jobs would be helpful training for Japanese American men and women.  By giving them opportunities to serve in the hospital and to apply themselves directly to issues that mattered personally to them, the WRA kept the Japanese Americans engaged and ensured that their time spent in the camp was useful.   To allow the Japanese Americans to have jobs while in the camps also served a more public service because it made the Japanese Americans look patriotic and a part of American society.  However, the WRA’s main motivation behind their asking for nurse aide volunteers from inside the internment camps was to supply the camps with medical care without having to ask Caucasian Americans, who were not as willing to do the job.  This was most beneficial to WRA because they knew Japanese Americans were eager for work and the Caucasian Americans wanted no connection to those interned.  This way, the WRA would save money because they knew the Japanese Americans would work for any kind of money.  It was crucial to have the Japanese Americans to work in the hospitals because if they had declined the WRA’s offer, many patients would have died and that would have reflected badly on the government.

In an oral history of Setsu Tsuboi Tanemura, she describes her experience in the Minidoka internment camp where she served as a nurse aide when she was thirteen.  During 1943, teenagers were given the chance to further their education in school or work in the hospital for money.  Few thirteen year olds worked in the hospital, but they were allowed to work because only a small amount of Japanese Americans in every camp had a background in qualified medical training.  Therefore, nurse aides helped with anything in the hospital or nearby clinics to reduce the spread of disease and other sicknesses.  Setsu mostly worked in the obstetrics ward, but occasionally helped in the surgical and tuberculosis ward, even though her father did not approve.  Allowing such young nurse aides to enter highly infected areas of the clinics was dangerous and irresponsible of the WRA; Setsu was infected by TB, though not to the point that she fully had the disease.  However, with the help of Setsu and many other Japanese American nurse aides, many more patients received personal care.

Overall, the WRA appreciated the assistance of the nurse aids; however, they had selfish motives.  The nurse aides did not get paid enough for the work they were doing and their work was more helpful to the appearance of the WRA than the training they were experiencing for the future.

-Olivia Van Horn

Works Cited

“Memo: Sally Lucas Jean, Concerning: Nurse Aide Program in the Poston Health Service, From: Elizabeth Vickers, R.N., Senior Chief Nurse”, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Link: <>

Setsu Tsuboi Tanemura Interview Segment 18.  Interviewed by Tom Ikeda, November 12, 2009, 
Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.

Photograph of Kiyoko Tatsukawa by Stewart,Francis, in the War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement Series 1: Colorado River Relocation Center (Poston, AZ) Volume 3 Section A, WRA no. B-491. Link: <>