Dean History: 1900s- Dean - WI

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Dean Medical Group's History

A Tour Through The Decades

  • A formal photo portrait of young Joe Dean.
  • Young Joe Dean, circa 1901.
  • Taken about 1902, this photo shows young Joe Dean, possibly while attending medical school in Chicago.
  • Dr. Joe Dean’s first office, around 1903.
  • Dr. Joe Dean was among the physician listings in the 1904 Madison City Directory.
  • The 1904 Madison City Directory lists Dr. Joe Dean in bold-face type.
  • A portrait of Dr. Joe Dean from 1904.
  • Dr. Joe Dean’s lecture notes from 1908.
  • Dr. Joe Dean’s first car, a 1912 model.
  • Dean Clinic is marked by a uniquely-shaped sign.

The State of Medicine in 1904

When Dr. Joseph Dean opened his medical practice in Madison in 1904, there was a growing belief that science could triumph over nature. The relatively new application of science to patient care gave way to excitement and hope that finally cures for diseases soon would be discovered, new technologies like X-ray machines might lead to better diagnoses and treatments, and improved communications via the increasing popularity of the telephone would make it easier for doctors to consult with other physicians and their patients, providing better care.

Reality strikes

This optimism, however, was tempered by the limitations of the resources available. To make diagnoses, doctors predominantly relied on their eyes, ears, training, experience and intuition. In 1904, the leading causes of death were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke. Even when they correctly diagnosed these and other potentially fatal diseases, physicians had only a handful of drugs that could extend patients’ lives or offer effective treatments. Smallpox vaccinations were available, but no other vaccines, antibiotics or other effective remedies existed for diseases. Surgery was loaded with risk from infection, particularly since the operating arena was commonly a newly washed table in a patient’s kitchen.

When Dr. Joseph Dean began practicing medicine, his knowledge was based on his training and experience. His technological tools were limited to a stethoscope, a microscope and the telephone. While experienced physicians might have been able to predict what would happen to a patient, there was little data on whether the potential benefits of a treatment actually exceeded the risks, and Dr. Joe, of course, was not an experienced physician when he first began treating patients.

Dean Clinic’s early days

On August 1, 1904, Dr. Joe opened his first office in Madison near the Capitol Square. He soon examined his first patient, marking the beginning of a commitment to high-quality patient care that would characterize Dean Clinic for the next century and through today. He began making house calls and, when necessary, performed surgery so effectively under the most adverse conditions that his reputation and medical practice quickly grew and flourished.

In those early days of medical practice, office hours never really ended. Dr. Joe had evening as well as daytime hours. He was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Surgeries in the neighboring communities sometimes took him away from home for several days, especially if the weather turned bad. House calls meant staying with patients until they were “out of the woods.”

A doctor for all reasons

Dr. Joe’s son, Frank, later explained, “There were no specialized doctors. The general practitioner did gynecology, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, urology. There was no such thing as an orthopedist, a gynecologist, or a neurosurgeon.”

Dr. Joseph Dean did it all, and he did it well—so well that he built a rock-solid foundation from which the Dean Clinic has grown to become one of the largest integrated health systems in the Midwest and a nationally recognized leader in patient care.

FOOTNOTE: In 1905, Dr. Joe married his childhood sweetheart, Minnie Karstens. Joe was a devoted husband and father. He and Minnie raised three children: Joseph (“J.C.”), Frank and Janet. The two sons also became physicians for Dean Clinic in the 1930s, and they continued the commitment to provide high-quality patient care that had been passed on to them by their father.

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