Profiles In Nursing

Lillian Brunner (1918-2016), Author of the “Brunner Bible” Textbook

Nursing students remember their Brunner Bible

The Medical-Surgical Nursing textbook cover on the left, and a photo of Lillian Bruner smiling on the right

Do you remember your “Brunner Bible”?

Perhaps you still reflect fondly on its value as a sleep aid or as part of your strength-training regimen. Maybe you still refer back to this essential textbook for detailed information about disease processes — or maybe you’re using the current edition in school.

However they may loom in your mind, there have been few volumes more important to modern nursing education than the textbooks written by the late Lillian Sholtis Brunner and Doris Smith Suddarth, including their pivotal Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing.

Means to an End

Although many of us feel called to nursing from an early age, Lillian Sholtis later declared, “Never did I want to be a nurse, for the thought of it repelled me.” She changed her mind for a strictly pragmatic reason: She needed money for school to pursue her real interest, teaching math and chemistry.

When she enrolled in the School of Nursing at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1937, training for nurses was still usually divided into separate medical, surgical and obstetrical tracks. The National League for Nursing Education had recommended combining the medical and surgical tracks back in 1930, but that transition wouldn’t be completed for many years. Her initial education was as a surgical nurse, and Sholtis spent the early years of her practice working in the OR of the hospital where she trained.

However, she did not forget her love for teaching. While pursuing her BSN and MSN, she taught at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and later at Yale University.

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A Textbook Case

In 1950, writing began to pique her interest. She became the third author of the revised ninth edition of Surgical Nursing, by Eldridge Eliason, M.D., Sc.D., FACS, and L. Kraeer Ferguson, M.D., FACS, succeeding another former University of Pennsylvania surgical nursing instructor, Evelyn M. Farrand, RN, B.S. Around that time, Sholtis also wrote her first journal article, which appeared in the June 1951 issue of the American Journal of Nursing.

She continued to work as an OR supervisor until her marriage in the summer of 1951. Afterwards, she focused most of her time on teaching, raising a family and writing. She also adopted her husband’s last name: Brunner.

Her many articles and books covered a lot of ground, including student experiences in the operating room, how to write policy manuals and understanding conditions like peptic ulcers. Like her later textbooks, almost all were collaborations. It was not until the early ‘60s that Brunner embarked on her now-famous collaboration with Doris Smith Suddarth, RN, MSN, BSNE.

The first edition of what was then entitled Textbook of Medical and Surgical Nursing, published in 1964 by Philadelphia-based J.B. Lippincott & Co., reflected the belated unification of medical-surgical nursing practice. The heavy, densely printed book soon became a backbone of nursing education, as did their Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice, first published in 1974. Both books have been translated into many languages and used in nursing programs around the world.  Brunner and Suddarth eventually supervised five editions of the Textbook of Medical and Surgical Nursing.

Nursing Education

Later Career

Editing textbooks was not all Brunner did. She remained actively involved with schools of nursing, particularly at the University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1985. In 2001, she established the school’s Mathias J. Brunner Instructional Technology Center, which provides Penn Nursing students with advanced simulation training.

She also endowed the Lillian Sholtis Brunner Chair in Medical-Surgical Nursing. In addition to serving on multiple editorial boards, Brunner was an early fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, which named her a Living Legend in 2002. She died in 2016, less than a week before her 98th birthday.

Ragged from Use

By the time I finished with my own copy of Brunner and Suddarth’s first-edition Textbook of Medical and Surgical Nursing years ago, it was ragged from use. The pages were dog-eared, torn and wrinkled from yellow highlighter, but they were still well-bonded to the spine.

Now in its 14th edition and published by Wolters Kluwer, the current version of Brunner & Suddarth’s Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing is more than 2,000 pages in two colorfully illustrated volumes. It has come a long way in 50 years, but it is still indispensable and — even in its latest all-digital edition — is still commonly referred to as a “Brunner’s.”

In her later years, Brunner said, “My greatest ‘award’ and satisfaction was to meet nurses who came up to me and expressed appreciation for their ‘Brunner Bible.’ To which I usually replied that I was indeed proud to have been a part of their successful career in nursing. Students were always my prime interest.”

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

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