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Dr. Ernest Ceriani, the subject of a 1947 Life magazine article titled "Country Doctor" (Life)

Revisiting 'Country Doctor,' A 1948 Photo Essay

by Claire O'Neill
Jan 10, 2012

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Dr. Ernest Ceriani, the subject of a 1948 Life magazine story titled "Country Doctor," pauses after a long surgery.

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Claire O'Neill

"Although 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas only 9 percent of the nation's physicians practice there." That's according to a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In short, the study reads, "despite greater need for health care, rural residents have fewer visits to health care providers and are less likely to receive recommended preventive services."

Of course, that's just one study. Although, personally, I know I'd be a lot less inclined to see the doctor if walk-ins weren't available a few blocks away.

It makes sense that health care would be difficult to access in remote locations. You either have to move to the medicine, or it has to come to you. What kind of person does it take to be a country doctor? Here's one example, now almost 65 years old.

Photographer W. Eugene Smith became a war photographer for Life magazine in 1942. Though seriously wounded while photographing World War II, he returned to photojournalism and made a big splash with this 1948 photo essay about the life of Dr. Ernest Ceriani, a practitioner in the small town of Kremmling, Colo.

The result of 23 days with Ceriani, Country Doctor "was an instant classic," according to, where the original essay has just been republished in its entirety, "setting Smith firmly on a path as a master of the unique art form of the photo essay, and solidifying his status as one of the most passionate and influential photojournalists of the 20th century."

As it is today and likely always will be, health care was an important issue in 1948, and Life wanted to explore that issue by focusing on, as it were, a life. I'd be interested in seeing the life of a contemporary country doctor. Do you know any?

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