Nancy J. Tomes Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor
Department of History
State University of New York, Stony Brook
Email: Discipline: History Expertise: Organization of Care, Advertising, Consumerism, History of Medicine, Media and Health

Investigator Award
Impatient Consumers: Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern American Medicine
Award Year: 2002 Intertwining of modern medicine and modern consumer culture in America has had both positive and negative effects on health and health care, according to Nancy J. Tomes, Ph.D. In her Investigator Award project, Impatient Consumers: Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern American Medicine, Dr. Tomes studies medical autonomy and authority, patients' demands for services, and the tension between professionalism and commercialism. Although market competition and the explosion of available health care information have led to increased options for patients seeking medical care, Dr. Tomes suggests that consumerism has also produced confusion, undercut medical advances, and contributed to the persistence of unequal access to care. Taking a historical perspective, beginning before the advent of antibiotics and sophisticated technology, she analyzes a range of issues that arose during the twentieth century, from modern medicine's limitations to curb lifestyle-related and chronic illnesses to the explosion of health-related Internet sites and direct-to-consumer drug advertising.


Nancy J. Tomes is a distinguished professor of history at Stony Brook University. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, she received her undergraduate education at Oberlin College and the University of Kentucky, and her doctorate in American history from the University of Pennsylvania (1978). She is the author of three books, two on the history of American mental hospitals, and most recently, The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life (1998), which won multiple book prizes. While a fellow at the National Humanities Center, she developed a website on Medicine and Madison Avenue, a digital collection on the history of health-related advertising available on the Duke University Library's website. With support from RWJF, she is now completing a book titled A Patient Paradox: The Making of the Modern Health Consumer, 1930-1980, on changing conceptions of and arguments about patients' "proper" role in the modern health care economy. Along with Beatrix Hoffman, she is leading an Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research group on patients as policy actors.