Born in Suva, Fiji, in 1943, Margaret Southwick (nee McKenzie) moved to New Zealand in 1944. Her mother who was from Tuvalu, had moved to Fiji to train as a nurse and her father, a New Zealander, had been posted to the Pacific during the war. Margaret attended Auckland Girls Grammar School until she attained her School Certificate, after which her mother insisted that she leave school and begin working. Margaret says she followed her friends into nursing having little idea of what to expect. She began nurse training in 1961, initially attending the three month preliminary training with eighty other students at Green Lane Hospital. She describes Prelim School.
After completing preliminary training the nurses started work on the wards where there was a clear hierarchy. ‘One lived in total awe of one’s seniors. They pretty much walked on water’. Junior nurses had to do the 'dirty work'. This involved 'endless panning and washing' and cleaning and sterilising equipment. As nurses progressed through training they were assigned slightly cleaner jobs. Margaret explains the hierarchies.
At Green Lane Hospital there was little connection between ward work and teaching in the classroom. There were often times when nurses would be put in a particular area to work with no idea of how to care for the patients’ specific needs. Student nurses were also left in the dark relating to new medical innovations that were being introduced such as resuscitation.
When Margaret’s family relocated to Timaru in 1962, she transferred her training to Timaru Hospital. She describes Timaru Hospital as being much smaller and friendlier than Green Lane had been. ‘I learned to survive at Green Lane and I learned to nurse at Timaru.’
Whilst studying in Timaru penal rates were introduced. Prior to this wages had been low, but with the new rates nurses were earning good money. Nurses had few expenses, so the money they earned could be spent on shopping, holidays and parties. Margaret was able to buy a car with her savings.
Nurses had close friendships and a good social life. Margaret describes having closer friendships with nurses at Green Lane because she lived in the Nurses’ Home. Although she lived at home in Timaru, Margaret still engaged in social activities with nurses. They would often frequent the local pub in the evenings even though there was the six o’clock closing. Nurses were quite heavy drinkers and tended to drink spirits, rather than beer. Smoking was also very common; ‘everybody smoked’.
Graduating in 1964, Margaret stayed on a Timaru Hospital as a staff nurse, and later a staff sister. She comments that it was a big step from third year student to staff nurse. Sometimes Margaret would be in charge of the whole hospital on afternoon or night duty. Many of the nursing students left after completing their state finals exam to get married or travel overseas. After two years of working as a registered nurse at Timaru Hospital, Margaret also decided to work overseas. She travelled to London in 1967 and worked in a hospital that was severely short staffed. There was a clear class structure in the British hospitals, and ‘colonials’, particularly those from the West Indies and Africa, were discriminated against.
Returning to New Zealand in 1969, Margaret took a job as a Public Health Nurse in Wellington and Porirua. She loved public health nursing and did a wide range of work. Margaret worked closely with Maori and Pacific Island communities and comments on the importance of working with families and developing whole community approaches to healthcare.
Margaret worked in public health nursing until her first child was born. She had married whilst living in Britain, and she and her husband had two children between 1971 and 1973. Margaret did part time work at Russell Kemp Rest Home in Wellington whilst the children were young, and returned to full time work once they had both started school. Whilst working at the rest home she did a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University of Wellington in Anthropology and Sociology. Margaret completed her BA in 1985, a year she describes as being a watershed moment in her life. Her marriage ended and she and her new partner, Wendy, moved to Titahi Bay. Margaret also began a job as a lecturer with the foundation team in the new School of Nursing at Whitireia Community Polytechnic in Porirua. She became increasingly involved in nurse education and in working to improve accessibility of nurse training for Māori and Pacific Island students. Margaret became Head of Nursing and Health Studies at Whitireia in 1994 and later was Head of School of Pacific Health Education (2001-3) and Dean of the Health Faculty (2004-11), after working as for a short time as a senior lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington. Margaret explains how Whitireia Polytechnic was established with the vision of creating an educational institution that would meet the needs of Māori and Pacific Island students by incorporating language and a framework of cultural safety into its programme.
Throughout her career Margaret has been involved in an array of professional activities and further education. She completed a PhD in Nursing at Victoria University of Wellington in 2001, and has been a member of many committees for the Ministry of Health and other organisations. Between 2009 and 2013 Margaret was the chairperson of the Nursing Council of New Zealand. Margaret retired from nursing in 2013 and she describes feeling ‘incredibly grateful’ for the career that nursing provided her.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Margaret Southwick: