Lorraine Patricia Watts (nee Kirk) was born in 1945 in Waipukurau. She worked as a wards maid while still at school, and so was familiar with the concept of nursing when it came time to pick a career. An older friend from school, Jan, was also a nurse. Her father was very encouraging about nursing and recognised the travel opportunities it provided. Lorraine describes how being a wards maid influenced her decision.
Lorraine applied to both Napier and Hastings Hospitals as they were close to her parents, and began her training at Napier Hospital in January 1963. Her parents took her to the hospital on her first day. She remembers everyone being shown to their individual bedrooms in the Nurses’ Home and that it was the first bedroom she’d ever had to herself. The students went to Preliminary School the next day. Lorraine remembers that the tutor sister was ‘wonderful. She was very young and very supportive and taught us so much in those three months’. They were taught sponging, taking temperatures and blood pressures, as well as isolation and cleaning. Lorraine remembers that the wards ‘ran like clockwork’, but that they spent most of their Prelim time in the classroom or mock ward working with a dummy named Mrs Chase. The students learned a lot about the ‘nursing art’: hygiene, privacy, and respect for doctors. She recalls the initiation to Nursing School.
The nurses’ uniforms corresponded with their rank in the hospital. Lorraine describes it as being ‘very army’, and that everyone, even the patients, knew where they belonged. Miss Goodwin was ‘definitely the matron’ and commanded respect, and Lorraine remembers being afraid of the ward sisters. She recalls one senior nurse on the afternoon shift who always kept the junior nurses late to finish their duties. However, there were also colleagues, including senior nurses, who made the workplace fun.
At the time, being a junior nurse seemed to last forever, but it was over within nine months. The students had increasing responsibility: Lorraine remembers that ‘you weren’t so obliged to be doing the pan rounds’, and that she did senior nursing tasks while a second year nurse. On night shift the nurses felt that they were being left alone with a lot of responsibility. Lorraine describes the neonatal unit.
The nurses had two Nurses’ Homes, one for the senior nurses and one for the junior and middle nurses. Lorraine recalls being locked out of her room one night and having to explain herself to the home sister: ‘You were really treated like a child sometimes, whereas you were at work and you were doing adult work and having to be very responsible.’ The senior nurses were allowed to go flatting with the permission of their parents and the home sister. The nurses found relief from hard times at work through going to parties. Lorraine did not smoke but others did, and she recalls that there was quite a bit of alcohol at parties and balls but that it was only acceptable for men to get ‘a bit tipsy’, not women. The nurses ‘had lots of boyfriends’, and, despite their work on the wards requiring maturity, they were still emotionally young. Lorraine recalls that although there were boyfriends ‘when it came to having a sexual relationship, that was a no-no, because you were just absolutely terrified that you'd become pregnant and that would ruin all your chances’. Nurses were asked to leave if they became pregnant during their training. She explains how the nurses supported each other and how nurses learnt not to get emotionally involved with patients.
Lorraine felt nervous sitting her hospital final exams, but the class all passed and they celebrated by going out for ice cream. She left before she had completed a year as a staff nurse in 1967, and went to London where she joined a nursing agency. The woman who ran it said that she ‘really liked New Zealand nurses and we got the jobs’. Lorraine worked in private homes, and later at St Mary’s Hospital and Guy’s Hospital. She recalls that the work did not seem as hard and she didn’t feel so responsible in England. A group of friends bought a van and travelled Europe together while she was there. Lorraine returned to New Zealand in 1969 to be a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. She and a friend worked unpaid as nurse assistants on a ship (SS Fairsea) to get free passage back to New Zealand. Lorraine explains how she saved for her overseas trip.
Back in New Zealand Lorraine worked at Hastings Memorial Hospital before marrying in 1969. She returned to Napier Hospital soon after. She was asked by the matron to apply for a promotion to sister, which she did, and she enjoyed the role of teaching students. Before she left to have a baby in 1975, Lorraine recalls some discussion about changes to nursing education and practice.
Lorraine returned to work part time, and remembered that the 1980s and 1990s was a ‘time of great change’. A report had recommended that Napier Hospital close, and Lorraine moved to Hastings Hospital in 1998 when it did. Lorraine studied for a nursing degree between 1998 and 2003, which she says was hard but she enjoyed it. She worked in neurology and general medicine at Hastings Hospital before moving to work on the Meningococcal B and HPV vaccination programmes. Since 2012 she has been working as a district nurse for the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and says she likes the autonomy. She became a New Zealand Nurses Organisation delegate and convenor in the 1990s, and explains how this happened and the challenges.
Lorraine has seen many changes in nursing over the course of her career, and the nurses who graduate today have a very different experience to those who trained in the 1960s. However, she thinks that the importance of the patient has always been an essential part of being a nurse. She says she had learned a lot and is still learning, and that she has valued a career that has given her great friendships. She discusses the professionalization of nursing and the variety of current options for nurses.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Lorraine Watts: