Gillian (Jill) Cameron (nee Crawford) was born in Christchurch in 1940. Jill had wanted to become a nurse since an appendicitis operation at a young age. While her parents were not initially supportive, she left school at age sixteen to pursue nursing, feeling there weren’t many career choices for girls.
Jill began her training at Christchurch Hospital Training School in 1958, three months before she turned 18, as a ‘pinkie’ - a preliminary school student with a pink uniform. The nurses were protective of their uniforms – Jill remembers that nurses from other hospitals made fun of Christchurch’s uniforms as they were old-fashioned. As a pinkie, Jill learned bed-making, sponging and panning in the wards, and anatomy and physiology in the classroom. As student nurses, Jill says they ‘did not question’ what they were told and ‘just accepted everything’.
After preliminary school, Jill became a junior pro, moving from a pink uniform to a grey one. She remembers that there were two male nurses in the men’s wards, and that they had different training from the female nurses – they were not allowed to deal with children or female patients and they had no lectures, which Jill believes was an inferior training. She remembers that the conditions as a student nurse were quite tough. Morning shifts began very early, with a number of tasks to complete before breakfast. At the end of shifts, no one was permitted to leave until all the work was finished – if one hadn’t finished, everyone helped until it was done. In addition, all the equipment was counted at end of each shift, and Jill recalls one sister who was ‘absolutely manic about counting the teaspoons’. There were a lot of drop-outs in Jill’s class: they started with forty-four and ended with fourteen. Jill says that some decided they ‘couldn’t hack it’ and left, she believes, because of the ‘discipline, hours and lack of freedom’. She explains how the home sisters got them up in the morning for their early shifts.
Jill recalls the hospital hierarchy as being very strict. Hospital etiquette was taught at preliminary school, and Jill says ‘you didn’t question it’. As well as the hierarchy within nursing levels, there were also rules about other staff: for example, student nurses were not permitted to approach senior doctors directly. They were frightened of the consultants but got to know them better when they lectured to the nurses. Jill’s class completed the last six months of their training at Princess Margaret Hospital when it opened, where she said the hierarchy was less strict.
Jill lived at the Nurses’ Home, and made friends straight away – ‘we were all in it together’. On every floor there was a lounge which had tea and coffee and a toaster – ‘we used to live on toast’. The nurses had a 10pm curfew with lights out at 10.30, and could get a late pass once a week. Jill recalls that the home sister was motherly if the nurses were sick, but that she was also very strict. A few nurses had scooters, and Jill remembers the home sister saying that ‘nurses who ride motor scooters or climb up fire escapes are liable to get unwanted babies’. Jill describes the Nurses’ Home; one of the special features was the limitless hot water.
In their spare time, the nurses went to movies, shopping, dancing or to coffee bars. They also sometimes went tramping, or played tennis at the hospital. Jill says she did not keep up with her friends from school – ‘your friends were your nursing friends’. Jill had boyfriends but no one serious: she remembers that it was difficult juggling shifts with a boyfriend. Some nurses became engaged during their training and left to get married immediately after they qualified.
There were also social activities within the hospital: there were nurses’ tea dances held several times a year, and some of the senior nurses and doctors attended parties together. Jill recalls that at one of these parties some student doctors threw a piano out a window. She remembers Christmas as being a fun time on the wards.
The nurses received nine pounds per fortnight, as well as a shoe and stocking allowance twice a year. Jill thinks that they were poorly paid compared to other women’s work, but it was all right because they also received board and tuition. Jill describes the status associated with nursing.
After graduation, Jill worked as staff nurse at Princess Margaret Hospital for a year, which endorsed her training and gave her confidence. This experience helped her get a job at the University College Hospital in London in 1962. There, she worked with famous surgeons as well as famous patients, including Ringo Starr. Back in New Zealand in 1966, Jill worked in the pioneering cardiac unit at Green Lane Hospital in Auckland. . Nurses came to Green Lane from overseas to train in cardiac nursing and to work with surgeon, Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes. In 1969-70, Jill was invited to set up a cardiac nursing course at Sirijaj Hospital in Thailand, and also spent four months in Hong Kong working as a theatre nurse. In 1978, she was part of a Green Lane surgical team that spent an intense two weeks in Samoa performing a large number of closed heart surgeries mostly on children. She left Green Lane in 1979 and worked at the National Heart Foundation before marrying her husband in 1987 and moving to a farm in the Wairarapa. Jill says she had ‘some great opportunities’ in nursing and that she was ‘really lucky’.
Jill says that over the years she has seen ‘huge changes’ in nursing, and considers it a ‘different profession’ now. She believes nurses trained are far more knowledgeable than she was during her training, that there is better teamwork between doctors and nurses nowadays, and that the hierarchy is less enforced. Jill herself completed her Diploma of Advanced Nursing while at Green Lane in 1966, which gave her the experience of a more theory-based education. However, she does think that today’s nurses probably need another year on top of their training to get adequate practical knowledge.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Jill Cameron: