The elder of two daughters, Margaret Woodcock (nee Middleton) was born in Wellington in 1947. She attended Paekakariki Primary School and Kapati College. Her mother insisted that she attend four years of secondary school because she wanted her daughters to have a career.
Margaret decided to go nursing because she felt the only career options for women were nursing and teaching, and teaching did not take her fancy. She applied to Wellington Hospital for nurse training after completing School Certificate and began training in 1964. At preliminary school students were trained in nursing tasks and spent a small amount of time on the wards. Margaret recalls being shocked by some of the sick people she saw on the wards and it was during this time that she first realised what nursing involved.
After three months of preliminary training Margaret began ward duties and block courses. As a junior nurse she was responsible for cleaning, washing, feeding, giving fluids, and bed-making. Margaret describes having to do urine tests every morning on diabetic patients and then cooking breakfast eggs for patients accordingly which could be a laborious task. She recalls that on the wards she was taught by the senior student nurses.
Nurses’ duties became more advanced as they progressed through training. Margaret recalls that second year nurses did dressings and senior nurses had more responsible tasks such as giving out medications and looking after diabetics and patients with IVs. Margaret describes the staff dynamics as very hierarchical. She found the charge nurses very autocratic and quite terrifying.
Student nurses were required to live in the Nurses’ Home throughout their training. There were some strict rules especially regarding curfews but these eased up as nurses became more senior. Margaret describes the camaraderie of the Senior Nurses’ Home and the close friendships that developed.
Nurses tended to keep to their own year when socialising and form tight-knit friendship groups. Close friends were often given shifts together and annual leave at the same time, because the hospital recognised socialising as important. This meant they could go on holiday together. Margaret recalls that her group of friends often went to the Beachcomber coffee bar in Oriental Bay.
Margaret describes nursing life as being very social; everyone wanted to make the most of their time off because they worked so hard. Nursing students would go to the lounge bar in pubs downtown, hurrying there before six o’clock closing after getting off a shift. During the winter ‘there were always balls to go to’. The nurses’ ball was held annually and all the firms in town held balls and nurses were often asked to go.
Having done a cardio-thoracic placement during her training, Margaret decided to continue in this area when she became a registered nurse. After she graduated in 1967, she worked in Wellington Hospital as a staff nurse for just under a year before travelling overseas. She travelled with two other nurses to England on the SS Angelino Lauro, and worked there, initially in a boarding school and then for a nursing agency. She describes New Zealand nurses as being very popular in England because they had sound training and a preparedness to do anything.
Returning to New Zealand in 1970, Margaret went back to work at Wellington Hospital, initially in the Cardio Thoracic unit before becoming Charge Nurse in the acute medical ward. After her secondment ended Margaret applied for a job as a district nurse in 1972, which was very different from hospital nursing. It consisted mainly of geriatrics and she describes the tasks involved.
Margaret met and became engaged to her husband Phillip (John) Woodcock whilst working as a charge nurse. She recalls saying to him before they married in 1973: ‘If you’re going to marry me you need to remember I’m a nurse and I’m not giving up my career’. She worked full time in district nursing until her first daughter was born in 1977. Margaret resigned at that time — there was no maternity leave — but soon found she wanted to return to work.
She moved from district nursing to full-time work at Hutt Hospital in 1988. She worked in the Physically Disabled Unit with patients who had permanent disabilities and was impressed by the multi-disciplinary team approach to treating and caring for the patients. Between 1990 and 1997, whilst still working full-time, Margaret undertook a Bachelor of Nursing through Wellington Polytechnic because she felt the need to expand her education after being appointed charge nurse. She relished having already had nursing experience because it enabled her to relate theory to practice. She became Clinical Nurse Manager at the Hutt Hospital in 1998, after which she was appointed Nurse Manager of Community Health Services for the Hutt District Health Board in 2010. She retired in 2014. Considering her time in nursing, Margaret describes the many changes that have occurred in nursing education, nursing care, and nursing practices. She reflects that being a nurse can be a tough job but she doesn’t ‘regret one day of it’.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Margaret Woodcock: