Diane Crispin was born in Whangarei in 1948 and attended St Mary’s College, Ponsonby, Auckland. Her mother worked for a doctor, which led Diane to consider a career in healthcare. She reflects on the career and life options open to girls in the 1960s.
Diane applied to the Auckland Hospital Board School of Nursing before she left school in 1965, and was accepted for the April 1966 intake. She remembers arriving at Green Lane Hospital as being ‘pretty scary’. There were nineteen women and three men in her class; the female nurses didn’t know much about the men as ‘they were kept separate’. The curriculum in Preliminary School included basic skills: making beds, sponging patients, dressings and injections. They had ‘a lot of responsibility right from day one’. They were supervised on the wards, and taught to be polite and respectful – ‘anyone three months ahead of you was of greater value than you were’ and they had to step aside to let them pass. Cleaners had just been brought in but the students still ‘spent a lot of time in the sluice room cleaning’. The ward had to be tidied twice a day before the doctors’ rounds and before visiting time. She found Prelim School quite daunting.
After Prelim School the classes were very big, and the tutors did not have time ‘for the one-on-one as they had in prelim’. Students were called up to the ‘sixth floor if they didn’t achieve’. The competence of the tutors was variable as they were only ‘one book ahead of us’: Diane says that ‘you learned on the job’. Only some ward sisters were teachers; Diane recalls that excellent ward sisters were those who were able to explain what and why they were doing something and had ‘a lot of confidence in what they were doing’. The students had regular study blocks, but Diane remembers that the theory did not often relate to ward work: ‘we could be on a surgical ward and doing medical conditions in block’. Emotional support came from fellow students. They talked in the Nurses’ Home lounge about everything from deaths to ‘who had told you off’ – ‘as a junior nurse you got told off all the time, it kept you in your place’. She reminisces about the first time she experienced a patient dying.
Partway through Diane’s training, disposable equipment became available. This included sterilised dressing packs, whereas previously the nurses had a huge number of procedures to learn for each different ward. This made things easier and better for the patient in terms of infection control. Medications also changed; ‘there were new drugs all the time’. Diane recalls that the theory they learned was not keeping pace with advances in medicine. She discusses the move to university-based nursing education.
Diane lived in the Nurses’ Home at Green Lane, and remembers being ‘dreadfully homesick’ initially. She made life-long friends, but lost touch with friends from school due to working so much. She says it was even difficult to keep up with her cousins in Northland as her ‘whole life revolved around nursing’. The Nurses’ Home had strict rules around times to be in, and the nurses needed permission from the matron for late leave. Diane remembers the Home Sister shining torches into cars parked in the forecourt of the Nurses’ Home, trying to catch people with their boyfriends: men were only allowed into the lounge to wait if going on a date. Nurses would leave their window open for nurses returning late if they had a room on the ground floor: you were ‘expected to let people in’. There were lots of parties and dances for the nurses to attend after work, and holidays were frequently taken with classmates. The students were required to live in the Home until their third year when they could live out with their parents’ permission, and Diane moved to a flat in her final year.
Diane never worried about her pay. The male nursing students were paid more, and were generally older, and those with university entrance were paid one pound extra a week. Of the nineteen girls who’d begun their training in Diane’s class, only ten sat their state finals and only nine passed. One of the three males finished his training. After exam results were back, only four or five continued to work. Diane became a staff nurse at Green Lane Hospital in 1969, working first in the ENT ward and later on the ‘night run’. She had much more responsibility than as a student though her training had prepared her well.
After fifteen months as a staff nurse, Diane travelled with a friend to England in 1970 and nursed in people’s homes or private wings of hospitals in between travelling around Europe. She returned to New Zealand in 1972 and worked at Green Lane Hospital again. She applied for midwifery training in 1973, and then went to England again. When she arrived back to New Zealand in 1976, she worked at Mater Misericordiae Hospital. She travelled to America in 1978 and worked in a hospital in Texas. Diane describes the work there as ‘frantic’: she did many of the procedures that house surgeons did in New Zealand. She remembers there being a different culture to that in New Zealand, and says there was poor practical basic nursing care. On returning to New Zealand in 1979, she became a staff sister at Auckland Hospital. She reflects on the changes in technology over that decade.
Diane decided to enter district nursing in 1981, which covered everything from ‘babies through to the elderly’. She worked as a District Nurse for the Auckland District Health Board from 1981 to 2013. She completed her Advanced Diploma in Nursing at the Auckland Technical Institute in 1987, and did a stomatherapy course at Waikariki Institute of Technology. She had a year’s leave to care for her mother, and considers it a privilege to have been able to nurse her mother in her own home for several months. She also cared for her grandmother while working at Mater Hospital, which she also considered important. She says that ‘nursing has been my life’ and reflects on 47 years of nursing and the huge changes she has seen.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Diane Crispin: