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October 27, 1993

Miners and Medicine: West Virginia Memories

JAMA. 1993;270(16):1988-1989. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510160110040

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Work is sometimes hell. Studs Terkel warned us in Working (New York, NY, Pantheon Books, 1974), "This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body."

In Miners and Medicine, Claude A. Frazier, with freelance writer, F. K. Brown, has collected observations and recollections of miners, widows, and retired coal company doctors—workers in the coal fields of West Virginia. He blends these anecdotes with interviews and other primary sources into a sketch of Appalachian coal-camp medicine in the early 20th century.

Contemporary physicians, who might lament their plight, will be astounded by the endurance, versatility, and devotion of the coal-camp doctor. Mining families isolated by harsh weather, poor roads, and long work shifts were the responsibility of the salaried company doctor. The typical mountain practice included home deliveries, on-site trauma care, office patients, and night house calls. The strenuous miner's