Born in 1937, Patricia ‘Dawne’ McPhee (nee O'Neil) has lived in Dunedin all her life. She attended a technical college for secondary school where she achieved school certificate at age sixteen. She was inspired by her cousins’ careers to be a school dental nurse, and was accepted into training.
However dental nurse training required students to purchase special clothes that Dawne could not afford. To save money Dawne began working as a nurse aide. She recalls that at the time she was better paid than the student nurses. Her hard work as a nurse aide caught the attention of the matron who persuaded her to train as a nurse, saying that general nursing had ‘more advantages’ than school dental nursing.
In 1955 Dawne entered nurse training which began with six weeks of preliminary school, where trainees learned how to sponge a patient, make and arrange beds in the correct fashion. When they started on the wards student nurses were not required to deal with ‘the sickest patients’. However, responsibilities increased over time. As a part of training student nurses were required to fill out a procedure book to prove that they were well practised, although the use of the procedure book became less frequent as time went by because the hospital was just so busy. Only four out of 20-25 students in Dawne’s class ended up finishing their training and many people in her class failed the final state exam.
Doctors did not tend to know the patients, and so required the assistance of the nurse. There was a clear difference between the junior doctors and the consultants. Dawne recalls that nurses had to behave differently in the presence of consultants. They were ‘like God coming into the ward’.
At the Nurses’ Home the nurse trainees were provided with their own room, and a ‘marvellous’ variety of meals. There were strict rules as well. Visitors were restricted to the lounge, and male visitors were strictly forbidden from entering the nurses’ bedrooms. Dawne recollects that the girls were allowed to have one night out a week, but otherwise had to be in before 11pm. They had to make sure they followed the curfew rules or they would risk having their leave cancelled.
The student nurses tended to have close relationships and would support each other through difficult situations, such as dealing with a ‘fearsome’ charge nurse or handling patient care. The girls would often socialise together and Dawne recalls going to local dances and even organising one at the tutorial block. Alcohol was not really part of social life, especially among the girls. Smoking on the other hand was very common among the nurses and other health professionals.
After registering as a nurse in 1958, Dawne spent a year as a staff nurse and then trained in maternity nursing in a six-month course at Hill Jack Maternity Hospital. She then worked in neurosurgery and as a part-time staff nurse at Dunedin hospital until 1975. Dawne then moved to a full-time position at the renal unit, where she worked for 28 years. In 1987 she undertook an Advanced Diploma in Nursing at Christchurch Polytechnic. Dawne recounts that there was a recession at the time which meant holding jobs in hospitals was tenuous and she worried about her future employment. The Diploma bonded her for two years, providing her with greater job security.
Dawne married straight after leaving nursing school and worked throughout all her pregnancies. Her marriage broke up before her youngest child was born in 1969, and she had to work part-time on night duty to support her family. As a solo parent Dawne was only allowed to earn a maximum of $12.00 a week from nursing so that she could get a welfare benefit. Once all her children had started school, she returned to work full time. The hospital allowed her time off for the school holidays, which enabled her to balance work and family life. The hospital ‘always made a fuss about… “FIVE CHILDREN!”’ Dawne reflects on her nursing career saying that it provided her with a good living, and it was a privilege to meet the people - staff and patients - over the years. And ‘yes’ she would do it all again.
19 FEB 2013
Fostex FR- 2LE Digital Recorder
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Dawne McPhee: