Margaret Faulkner (nee South, formerly Thomas) was born in South Canterbury in 1934, and grew up in the small town of Winchester. Margaret chose to pursue nursing partly because the Nurses’ Home offered secure accommodation away from home. Her parents did not want her to go nursing: her father objected to it on hygiene grounds, and got her a job as a cleaner at a hospital when she left school ‘to put me off nursing forever’. While she disliked the job, she still wanted to pursue nursing. She was inspired by the women who nursed during the Second World War.
Margaret began her training at Christchurch Hospital in 1953 in a class of forty. She remembers thinking on her first day that she was in a similar situation as that at boarding school – the looks on everyone’s faces said ‘What have we done? What have we signed up for?’ There were strict rules: Margaret says the hospital took their responsibility for the nurses’ safety very seriously. It had a ‘very English model of nursing’, exemplified by the old-fashioned uniform. There were also rules around the uniform: it had to be worn a certain way, and was only ever worn within hospital grounds.
Margaret describes her hospital tutors as ‘amazing’. One nurse was interested in the health of the nurses themselves, saying ‘you can’t be a good nurse without being a healthy nurse’. Margaret’s first ward duties included cleaning, bathing patients and cleaning their teeth, and the tutors were ‘two minutes away from you all the time’. She remembers one night early on in her training when she was asked to accompany a body to the morgue. Despite this ‘horror’, Margaret considers herself to have received a good education at the hospital.
The hospital had a clear hierarchy: there was always a distance between the senior nurses and the junior nurses, especially away from the ward, and doctors were at the ‘top of the heap’. There were no male nurses being trained at Christchurch Hospital, although there were a few who worked there: they had been trained in England and Margaret considers the training they received as inferior to that at Christchurch. She says that, although there might have been ideas about nursing being a woman’s job, in her opinion the men were good nurses, ‘so that’s where it began and ended’. She reflects on the attitudes of some of the surgeons to women.
The nurses had hospital exams and tests throughout their training before the big state finals at the end of three years. Margaret remembers it being difficult to study. After exams, Margaret’s class headed off in many directions, including going overseas, doing maternity training, or becoming a Plunket nurse. As a student, Margaret considered nursing to have an intrinsic value that other women’s jobs didn’t have: you were always helping people, and you could get job security that other jobs didn’t provide. She found the exams quite stressful.
Margaret lived in the Nurses’ Home during her training. The nurses moved rooms a lot for different reasons; if they were on night duty for several months their rooms were on the top floor to avoid noise from lifts and stairs. The nurses were closely monitored even if they had found someone they were going to marry: they were reprimanded if they were late back or caught climbing in a window. Margaret remembers that they went to amazing lengths to stuff their beds to look like they were home.
Getting to her family in South Canterbury took hours on the bus, so Margaret was only able to go home about once every three months. She spent most of her time with the other nurses, with whom she made lifelong friendships.
The nurses had fairly busy social lives, going to the beach, to dances, and on picnics. Margaret remembers there was not much socialising within the hospital aside from an annual nurses’ ball and Christmas – the breakfast on Christmas Day was the ‘best meal of the year’. Their income was a limitation to the socialising; they had to economise.
Margaret met her husband while he was a patient at the hospital. They became engaged towards the end of her training in 1956 and married soon after. After Margaret had three children, she and her husband separated. As she had not done a year as a staff nurse after her training, she found it difficult to get a job. In addition, she found employers were unwilling to hire a single mother.
Margaret worked at the Nursing Bureau for a while before being contacted to help fix up a rest home and being taken on there to run it full-time. When Margaret remarried, she opened her own rest home. She recalls that she paid her staff higher than other rest homes in Christchurch as this ensured she had good staff, and she helped to establish a pay award for rest home carers. After her second marriage ended, she moved to Wellington in 1974, and recalls it was difficult to get a home loan as a single woman. She did community and district nursing in Porirua before becoming the New Zealand Nurses Association representative on the Whitereia Polytechnic Board when it opened in the 1980s. She did her Community Health Nursing Certificate through Wellington Polytechnic in 1987, and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing in 1989. Margaret’s career developed further when she was appointed to manage the care of veterans through the War Pensions section of the Department of Social Welfare. From 2000, she also spent 13 years in health governance as an elected member of the Capital & Coast District Health Board. Her experience as a nurse was an important factor in her approach to each of these roles.
Margaret believes the modern tertiary nurse training to be very different from the training she received and difficult to compare, but considers it a flaw that the practical component of her training is missing from modern training. She has also noticed changes in the way nurses approach their patients: nowadays they see only the illness, whereas Margaret was taught to see the illness as part of the whole life of the patient. She reflects on the community ethos of her family, and considers nursing to be about making a difference to lives of others.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Margaret Faulkner: