Florence Dent was born in 1948, and grew up in Whakatane. Her mother had been a healthcare assistant during the Second World War, but did not train as a nurse, and her grandmother had been a child’s nurse in England. Florence says they did not influence her decision to become a nurse, although she considers that seeing pictures of her grandmother in her uniform may have subtly influenced her. She initially planned to become a teacher, and explains how she entered nursing by chance.
Florence went into nursing at Waikato Hospital in 1967 when she left school at age eighteen. Her parents took her to Hamilton on her first day of training. There were seventy-four girls in her class, Florence remembering a good number were from private schools ‘looking for husbands’. They spent three months in Preliminary School being introduced to ‘the art of nursing’, with an exam at the end. Florence remembers that two people had left by the end of the first week, and half the class had left by the end of the three years. After Prelim, the students moved to the wards. Florence began on the children’s ward, six days a week, doing tasks such as washing and toileting people and cleaning the sluice room. She remembers writing to her mother during this time saying she was sick of the children’s ward as it was ‘glorified housework’. She explains how students consulted with one another about the work.
The nurses had forty-five minutes for meals during their shifts, and they had to change uniforms before they went. Florence remembers that while the food wasn’t always good, they were ‘usually so hungry you just ate it’. In the wards, the junior, middle and senior nurses had different tasks, but they didn’t work as a team. Florence says that their responsibilities changed as they became more senior, which was a challenge but ‘you learned how to cope’.
Twice a year the students had four-week blocks in the classroom, with exams at the end of each block. The questions they were asked often focused on patient safety and identifying medications. By the end of her training Florence remembers discussion about nursing training moving out of hospitals, but that she was not dissatisfied with her training: ‘it was all we knew, we just got on with it’. In particular students at that time learnt by comparing notes.
Florence says that although there were rules, the Nurses’ Home was fun because there were always people around. The students were allowed to go flatting with their parents’ permission after they had passed their junior examinations. Florence went flatting with five other girls in a three bedroom flat, which didn’t seem crowded since they were ‘used to being confined’ in the Nurses’ Home. Although their shift work still restricted their social life, flatting allowed the nurses to go out without having to report in ‘or climb through a window’. Florence moved back into the Nurses’ Home for her last six months to allow for study. She discusses her experiences in the Nurses’ Home.
Florence was already working as an acting staff nurse when her state exam results arrived. Several months later there was a graduation ceremony where Florence ‘progressed from the red cape of a student to the green cape of a staff nurse’. Some of Florence’s colleagues left immediately to travel or marry. Florence remembers the difference between her responsibilities as a student nurse compared to a staff nurse.
She went to Australia after working for a year as a registered nurse, where she stayed for eighteen months before travelling to Kathmandu and London. She did not work in London however as mental health nursing training was required. She returned to New Zealand in 1972 and worked at Whakatane Hospital, and although she had trained at Waikato and ‘didn’t really fit it’, she says she had a wide experience there. She did her midwifery training in Auckland in 1977, which she remembers had a ‘strict regime’. Florence then moved to Rotorua to become a midwife for a local GP, and later did district nursing which she says had a ‘friendly work environment’. In 1980 she did her Advanced Diploma of Nursing at Auckland Technical Institute.
In 1986, Florence became a district nurse supervisor in Rotorua, which she says had a significant educatory element. She remembers that district nursing began to change after that to become more systematic, and so she ‘decided to have a change’ and moved to Hutt Hospital in 1989. After a particularly challenging patient in 1998 Florence took a break from nursing, studying computing and working in non-nursing jobs. She returned to Nursing at Rotorua Hospital in 2002. She says that Nursing in now more technical, and the workload has increased, but that treatment and technology had changed so that patients recover faster. She discusses the modern consumerist movement.
Working with students today who have trained in polytechnic institutes, Florence has noticed a gap between what a nursing student learns and the reality of practical nursing. She thinks nurses have moved full cycle in feeling a lack of control over their workload.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Florence Dent: