Anita Dorr, Inventor of the Crash Cart

Profiles in Nursing

Anita Dorr, Inventor of the Crash Cart

She also launched the ENA

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Here is a little quiz: Who was a consultant to Paramount Studios for the medical shows it produced in the 1960s? Who devised the first crash cart invented by a nurse? Who was the first, along with a California nurse from Downey, to form a national emergency nurses’ association? Anita Dorr, RN, is the correct answer to all three.

Anita DorrMother of Invention

While working in the emergency department she became concerned about how long it took the staff to round up all the equipment needed to treat a critically ill patient. With her staff, she compiled a list of items that would be needed in any type of emergency. Then she and her husband John measured everything and in 1968 built a red-painted wood prototype in the basement of their home. The original cart had a laminate top and included wheels for quick movement to the bedside. Everyone called it the crisis cart.

It was arranged anatomically: head and neck items were placed to the side that would be closest to the patient’s head (for intubation, etc.). Items for venous access were placed in the direction of the foot of the bed. Medications were in the middle. And from the very beginning it contained a clipboard. The cart proved so popular that it was soon in use throughout the hospital. Today’s carts are a little different, made of steel for infection control and stocked with disposable supplies. They are found worldwide and are often called crisis workstations. Having them properly stocked and in sufficient numbers is a basic requirement for accreditation.

But to her eternal chagrin, Anita Dorr was wrongly informed that she could not receive a patent on the cart, and in recent years there have been other claimants to the honor.

Dreaming Big

Anita Dorr made another significant contribution to the profession. She established the first emergency nurses’ association. As a graduate of the E. J. Meyer Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, she first held a position as operating room supervisor. After joining the Army Nurse Corps during World War II (she reached the rank of major), Dorr returned to civilian life in Buffalo, New York, and in 1960 became the supervisor of the emergency department at Meyer Memorial. By all accounts she ran it very much like an army regiment.

Early on she recognized that emergency nursing was a type of specialized nursing and that continuing inservice and education was needed. She worked hard for affiliations with universities, pharmaceutical companies, and professional organizations to increase the education for emergency workers. She also began to dream about a national association and formed a group on the east coast in 1970 called the National Emergency Department Nurses Association.

At the same time on the west coast, Judy Kelleher from Downey was starting a similar group. A simple phone call combined the two groups and Dorr was named the first executive director, a position she held until her death in 1972.

In 1986, the national group was renamed the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) to reflect the role-specific, rather that site-specific, nature of emergency nursing. Only this year did the ANA fully recognize emergency nursing as a specialty. Today the ENA has 39,000 members and is international in scope and membership.


Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

Photo credits: right, Emergency Nurses Association; above, Bellevue Alumnae Center for Nursing History.

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