Lorna Wong Hop (nee Ngan) was born in Wellington 1944. Her parents were from China and owned and worked in a Fruit Shop in Newtown. She grew up speaking Cantonese and English. Aged nine Lorna decided she wanted to become a nurse, after spending time in hospital having her tonsils removed. The nurses’ attitudes and the cleanliness of the hospital made an impression on her.
Lorna left school at sixteen with School Certificate but had to wait a year until she was old enough to begin nurse training. She was accepted into training at Wellington Hospital in April 1962, as one of forty-five girls. Lorna recalls about fifty percent of the class dropped out by the end of the three years. There was one other Chinese student in her class but the vast majority were European. Preliminary school included classes in anatomy and physiology. The students also practised nursing techniques on each other, such as back care to prevent bedsores and how to wash a patient correctly. They were also taught the precise way to make beds. Lorna did not mind the meticulous nature of the task but does recall thinking, ‘Oh gee, they’re fussy’.
When they began on the wards the junior nurses’ duties included tidying the ward, bed panning, washing, and feeding or delivering food to patients. Lorna describes the morning as very busy because the patients would have to be washed and toileted before breakfast at 8am. The matron would make rounds and everything had to be immaculate. ‘Everyone would get in a panic, especially the ward sister’. Lorna describes the authoritarian staff structure that existed in the hospital where nurses were expected to stand for anyone more senior.
The nursing students lived in the Nurses’ Home at the beginning of training. When she arrived Lorna was impressed by her room, she remembers thinking ‘Wow! Look at this room, just for me.’ The girls had their own bedrooms and a shared bathroom. Lorna describes feeling well looked after in the Nurses’ Home, especially if nurses got sick. Meals were provided and there was plenty of variety. ‘We were very well fed... It was nice too.’ Lorna describes social life as being difficult to maintain as a nurse because of the shifts. During study blocks there was more time for leisure activities, because everyone had the same time off. Lorna would frequently go to stage shows, receiving a discount on tickets for being a nurse. Majestic Theatre and The Opera House were popular destinations for seeing shows.
Lorna’s family lived close to the hospital so she went home regularly. The girls were allowed to go flatting in their third year. Lorna’s close friends had dropped out by the third year, so she took the opportunity to move home instead. Lorna recalls that the nurses’ pay was ‘really good’. The money they earned was just pocket money which nurses could spend on themselves. There were no living expenses because board and meals were provided by living in the Nurses’ Home.
Lorna completed her training in August 1965, and was asked where she would like to be staff nurse. Her tonsillectomy experience from when she was a child influenced Lorna’s decision to choose ear, nose and throat (ENT). After a year she moved up to Auckland with her future husband David. She lived in the Green Lane Nurses’ Home and took a job as a staff nurse on night duty in the general surgical ward. The hierarchy at Green Lane Hospital was not as rigid as it had been at Wellington Hospital, Lorna observed.
In 1968 she became a staff sister at National Women’s Hospital working in the gynaecological theatre. After two years she moved to a private laboratory where she worked as a nurse taking blood samples and making deliveries. Lorna returned to hospital work in late 1970 and began working in an ENT clinic. She had married in 1967 and continued to work full time until her first child was born in 1971. She took a few years off from nursing when her two children were young. Lorna returned to work in 1974 and worked in the Wellington Hospital ENT ward from 1974 to 1977. Whilst working part-time, the job paid well because Lorna was given penal rates for working on weekends. Lorna’s mother helped out with childcare.
After working in various part-time hospital roles in Auckland from 1977 to 1988, Lorna decided to become a Plunket nurse. Training for three months in Papatoetoe, Lorna found the course very enjoyable, and she worked as a Plunket nurse until 2009. When she registered she was assigned initially to the Otahuhu area and later Mt Eden. Her duties involved making home visits and running drop-in clinics for mothers and babies. In the late 1980s there were increasing numbers of Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese migrants moving to New Zealand. In 1994 it was suggested to Lorna that she see just Chinese mothers, as they responded well to her. Lorna set up a Plunket clinic in Epsom for Chinese families, and other Plunket nurses would refer Chinese mothers to her. Many of the mothers were in New Zealand without any family support. Lorna considers her work in Plunket’s Chinese unit a highlight of her career. She was eventually awarded the QSM for ‘Services to the Chinese Community’ for her work with Plunket and for her committee work in the New Zealand Chinese Association.