Nurses’ stories at heart of book





Author Pamela Wood’s New Zealand Nurses draws on a wealth of nurses’ personal stories to identify the values, traditions, community and folklore of the nursing culture from 1880 — when hospital reforms began to formally introduce ‘modern nursing’ into New Zealand — to 1950, three years after New Zealand severed its final tie as part of the British Empire. We asked Pamela about her book: What is New Zealand Nurses: Caring for our people about? The book uses nurses’ own stories to show what it meant to be a New Zealand nurse between the 1880s — when ‘modern nursing’ was introduced here — and 1950. A distinctly New Zealand nursing culture quickly emerged. Our nurse leaders were internationally admired, and even envied, for what they achieved and New Zealand nurses were recognised as resourceful professionals who gave very skilled care. Tell us about the nurses working in the fever camps in the Far North Nurses who cared for people who were very ill with typhoid fever, in the tents of a remote fever camp, often had little equipment. They had to make do with kerosene tins as buckets for soaking bedlinen and boiling waste, and old jam jars as mugs. If there were no camp stretchers, patients lay on piles of ferns so nurses had to kneel on the ground to tend to them. NZ was the first country in the world to introduce the Nurses Registration Act. What did this mean for nurses here? South Africa already had state registration of nurses but it didn’t have separate and specific legislation for this. New Zealand’s first chief nurse, Grace Neill, drafted our Act and was astute enough to ensure that it gave nurses a distinct and strong basis for recognition as a profession. She wrote the syllabus for the three-year training, inspected nursing schools, organised the state examinations and set up the state register of nurses. What were the conditions like for NZ nurses working in WWI? Conditions were tough. In hospitals in Cairo, nurses would often feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of sick and wounded soldiers arriving at any one time from Gallipoli. In France, they stood for hours in makeshift operating theatres as soldier after soldier had a shellshattered leg amputated. And no, nurses weren’t safe — their own courage was particularly evident when the troopship Marquette, transporting their hospital from Egypt to Greece in October 1915, was torpedoed. Ten nurses died and survivors spent hours clinging to wreckage before ships rescued them. How has the role of nursing changed since the 1950s? Technology has made a significant impact, and the complex decisions nurses now have to make require a stronger scientific knowledge-base and skills in interpreting clinical evidence. Nursing education has changed in recognition of this — instead of an apprenticeship-style training in a hospital, nurses now do a degree in the tertiary education sector. Nurses’ role is still one of providing the best care possible. Are conditions for nurses easier now or were they better 100 years ago? Today, people are kept in hospital for a shorter period, so nearly all the patients in a ward are there at their sickest time, when they need the most care. In a ward 100 years ago, some patients would be recovering or even convalescent. But today, nurses are also caring for their own families and have community responsibilities, whereas in the past they lived in a nurses’ home and had to leave nursing if they married. However, nurses 100 years ago worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week — they had no day off. In the 1920s, a trainee nurse earned half the amount that a trainee teacher, cleaner or waitress earned. Thankfully, nurses have recently made significant gains in getting professional remuneration and hopefully that progress will continue.