The eldest of four children, Janice Wenn (nee Workman) was born in 1933 in Greytown in the Wairarapa. Her mother had been a nurse and her father was a gardener and ambulance driver for the local hospital, so that growing up Janice was familiar with many of the hospital staff. After gaining School Certificate Janice planned to do teaching but was too young for Teachers’ College, so instead attended Victoria College (Victoria University of Wellington) for a year doing an arts degree. Her mother made the decision for her to transfer to nursing training which she commenced at New Plymouth Hospital in 1952.
Janice was the only Māori woman in her class. Although not an official policy, the number of Māori students was restricted by the administration. Janice describes how each hospital had a quota of Māori that they would be willing to take on.
Life for student nurses was strict both at the hospital and in the Nurses’ Home. If you did not do something right ‘you had to go back and redo [it]’. Janice recalls being told, on several occasions, ‘you can do better’. She describes what they were required to bring to nurse training, including a detailed list of the correct clothes. The matron inspected their wardrobes on the first week to check that they had the correct garments.
Duties in the first year included cleaning wards and invalid cooking. Classes focused primarily on human anatomy and physiology. During her training Janice moved up the hospital ranks quickly. She consequently spent more than half of her training as an acting staff nurse. In this role she was in charge of other staff and had significant responsibility in patient care. Nursing students were initially paid £2.6s.8d a fortnight, which Janice considered reasonable because their accommodation and meals were provided. On pay night Janice recalls going to the movies and getting fish and chips with the other student nurses. The nursing students were a ‘fairly cohesive group’. They would go on outings and enjoy other social activities together in their spare time. Janice describes being a member of a drama group and going for picnics at the beach with other girls.
Upon completion of her midwifery training Janice went to work in Tasmania. There she worked in the North-Eastern Scottsdale Memorial Hospital for a year before moving to community nursing. As a Bush Nurse she worked in an isolated area as sole charge, ‘managing everything from antenatal right through to death’. During this time Janice married and had two children. She worked through her pregnancies until she was due to deliver and then returned to work shortly after because she needed to be available to the community in case of an emergency.
Returning to New Zealand in 1966, Janice was employed as a public health nurse initially working in Masterton. She was sent to Auckland for three months to do the Plunket Nurse training during which time she lived at Karitane Hospital. Janice worked as a public health nurse for 10 years, spending some of that time based in Dargaville working with Māori communities of Ngāpuhi. Being Māori she was well received and able to participate in ways that Pākeha nurses could not.
Janice continued to work closely with Māori health when she returned to Masterton in 1976 taking on the role as Assistant Principal Nurse - and later Principal Nurse - of Masterton Hospital. ‘There was a feeling that I belonged to the people… to the Iwi.’ It was important to work with the whānau, although some health professionals took issue with this.
In Taranaki too, as Chief Nursing Officer (1981-91), Janice worked to tackle issues in Māori health. She was involved in developing national strategies to address Māori health problems and improve health care access. She was also a key figure in establishing a funded Māori network throughout Taranaki that worked closely with whānau. She explains that her aim was to gain equity of health services for Māori. This included encouraging young Māori into nurse training at the local polytechnics. Later, in 1998, she established Whai Ora in Masterton. The services provided were initially focused on cervical screening, maternal and child health care, and physical exercise programmes. Since its establishment the service has expanded to provide a broader range of programmes and has over 20 employees. Janice went on to become a consultant in Māori health for the Ministry of Health in 2000.
Throughout her career Janice extended her education in nursing and Māori health. In 1973 she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Nursing and Psychology. She also gained a Diploma in Health Administration and in 1983 completed her Masters in Nursing Studies. Most recently, in 2007, she finished her PhD in which she researched the values underpinning Māori health and created a framework for looking at the past, present and future of Māori health.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Janice Wenn: