Jill McKnight (nee Merrin) was born in Nelson, 1947. Her mother was a trained nurse and midwife. Jill did not consider becoming a nurse during her school years but her mother insisted Jill and her two sisters train for a solid career. The main career paths for women were teaching, office work, nursing or working in a shop and Jill decided to apply for nursing, influenced to a large extent by other girls at school who were going nursing.
Along with 29 other girls Jill entered nursing preliminary school at Nelson Hospital in 1965, where they learnt how to take make beds and sponge patients. The curriculum topics also included anatomy, physiology, diseases, medications and surgical procedures. Jill recalls that the tutor sisters were strict but fair. There was a staff nurse, Mo Takou, who would assist in tutorials and was very approachable. When they started on the wards the student nurses were required to put theory into practice. Jill describes being so conscientious the first time she had to sponge a patient because she wanted to do it exactly right.
Responsibilities increased as student nurses became more senior. As junior nurse on the wards, responsibilities included taking blood pressures and temperatures, making beds and tidying the wards. Middle nurses had duties such as wound care and medications, and senior nurses would be in charge of the care of the critically ill patients, attend to intravenous lines and supervise other nurses. Jill discusses the value of learning on the wards and gaining practical experiences. She explains that junior nurses learnt a lot from more senior colleagues.
Nurse training also involved experience in community nursing. Jill recalls going out into the community with a public health nurse and a district health nurse. The public health experience involved visiting schools to run vaccination programmes and district nursing involved home visits. Throughout training nursing students faced difficult emotional experiences when caring for patients. Jill remembers that the girls would have long conversations with one another to cope with challenging emotional situations. The nursing students developed close friendships and the whole cohort spent a great deal of time socialising together. Social activities included swimming in the hospital pool and going to the pictures. Dances would also be frequently attended where the waltz, foxtrot and Gay Gordon were the popular dances of the time.
The girls would often walk into Nelson’s city centre to go shopping in the morning before a shift on afternoon duty. Other leisure activities in town included spending time at the new coffee house Chez Eelco. Jill describes it as being ‘the place to go’.
The student nurses all lived in the Nurses’ Home when they began training. Jill describes the thrill of having her own room after having shared a room with her sisters at home. The Nurses’ Home supervisor closely monitored the students’ behaviour. The Home had curfews of 10pm and girls were allowed two 11 o’clock passes per week and were also allowed overnight passes. Nurse trainees had to sign in and out of the Nurses’ Home. Sometimes girls would find other ways to come in late to avoid the Nurses’ Home supervisor.
During training Jill met her future husband, Ian, who was in the navy. When Jill completed her training in 1967, she and Ian married and moved to Auckland for his work. After her second child was born, Jill decided to return to nursing to help contribute to the family income. Taking a job at Lady Allum Geriatric Home in 1970, Jill worked nightshifts for several months before the family relocated to the Waikato when Ian left the navy. In the mid-1970s they lived in Singapore for a couple of years.
Upon their return from Singapore Jill was offered a position as a district nurse in Nelson, which involved working an 8am-2.30pm shift. The hours were ideal for fitting in with family life as they allowed Jill to be there for her three sons after school. As a district nurse Jill’s responsibilities included attending to patients in their homes and undertaking tasks such as wound care, bathing, insulin administration, and general hygiene care. Jill recounts that a typical day would involve seeing 17-24 people. She became a district nursing supervisor in the mid-1980s .
Between 1982 and 1993 Jill undertook a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Nursing and in 1987 completed a certificate in community health nursing at Christchurch Polytechnic. She had been advised to further her education so that she could advance in her career. ‘I think it certainly made me more confident.’ In 1990 Jill left district nursing to set up and manage a pilot cervical screening programme in Nelson, which was the forerunner of the National Cervical Screening Programme. Following this, she was appointed Community Health Manager for the Central Regional Health Authority. Jill then decided to set up her own private nursing agency in 1998, initially running it from the spare room at her home. The nursing agency gained contracts from Ministry of Health, and the District Health Board to do home support and Social Rehabilitation Assessments, and later gained some ACC contracts. Jill describes setting up a successful nursing service as a highlight of her career.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Jill McKnight: