Sister Mary Joseph noduleBMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h5224 (Published 15 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5224
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Dear Prof. David Kerr,
Julia Dempsey (born May 14, 1856, Salamanca, New York — died March 29, 1939, Rochester, Minnesota), who was a daughter of Irish immigrants, entered the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes in Rochester, in 1878. Here she received the name Sister Mary Joseph. First she had worked as a teacher in Ashland (Kentucky). In 1889, she went as a nursing student to Saint Mary's Hospital in Rochester. Sister Mary Joseph was within six weeks head nurse.
From 1890 to 1915, she became the first surgical assistant under the guidance of Dr. William James Mayo (1861-1939). And in 1892, Sister Mary Joseph was appointed nursing superintendent of Saint Mary's Hospital (now world-famous Mayo Clinic). She was extremely skillful, intelligent, committed and taught generations of young nurses. Dr. Mayo praised her surgical judgment during and after surgery. The honorary doctorate which the Creighton University wanted her awarded in 1928, she refused. Sister Mary Joseph was the first to note the association between paraumbilical nodules observed during skin preparation for surgery and metastatic intraabdominal cancer confirmed at surgery [1-5].
The term "Sister Joseph's nodule" first was used in Sir Hamilton Bailey's famous textbook "Demonstrations of Physical Signs in Clinical Surgery" in 1949. Because Sister Mary Joseph had removed 'Mary' from her name, the sign called correctly "Sister Joseph’s nodule" . Among the many eponyms in the medicine, the association with the name of a nurse is a peculiarity .
1. Trebing D, Göring HD. [The umbilical metastasis. Sister Mary Joseph and her time]. Hautarzt 2004;55(2):186-9. [Article in German]
2. Schwartz IS. Sister (Mary?) Joseph’s nodule. N Engl J Med 1987;316(21):1348-9.
3. Key JD, Shephard DA, Walters W. Sister Mary Joseph's nodule and its relationship to diagnosis of carcinoma of the umbilicus. Minn Med 1976;59(8):561-6.
4. Abu-Hilal M, Newman JS. Sister Mary Joseph and her nodule: historical and clinical perspective. Am J Med Sci 2009;337(4):271-3.
5. Powell JL. Powell's pearls: eponyms in medical and surgical history. Sister Joseph's Nodule; Sister Mary Joseph (1856-1939). J Surg Educ 2011;68(5):442-3.
Competing interests: No competing interests