Typical of a mid-20th century, small-town physician, Dr. Walker’s practice differed radically from a practice today. With an office in his home, he was on-call day and night, every day, answering calls in the middle of the night or on New Year’s Day. He rushed to deliver a baby, or mend a wound from an accident, or just sit and talk with a parent while a feverish child searched for sleep. He seldom sent bills and insurance was rare, so he accepted whatever a patient could pay. He often drove patients to the hospital in his own car to ensure appropriate medical treatment. Such care is rarely available today from a single doctor.
From his arrival in 1923 until his death, Dr. Wilmarth Bradford Walker saw radical changes to the practice of medicine, to the status of doctors, and to the small town he came to love.
In 1923 Cornwall and the medical profession were vastly different than they are today. Cornwall’s hills, valleys, and unpaved roads isolated the community, particularly in the winter when travel was often virtually impossible. Medical care could successfully treat only a few diseases. A lone doctor with only a black bag and a medical degree could provide state-of-the-art healthcare. Dr. Walker arrived in Cornwall with his wife to develop a practice and nurture an entire community. By 1978 when the VNA chapter he founded celebrated its 50th anniversary, medical practice had become much more complex, specialized, and bureaucratic so that skilled generalists, like Dr. Walker were a rarity.
The years of Dr. Walker’s practice as Cornwall’s remarkable town doctors saw dramatic changes in transportation, medical treatment, and health insurance that combined to permanently alter small town medicine. Care to Cure: Medicine in the Era of Dr. W. B. Walker, 1923–1978, focused on the significant contributions and successes of Dr. Walker’s career and how they related to the changing history of medicine during this period.
The exhibition included extracts from oral histories and recollections shared by patients of Dr. Walker.