Mary Lean (nee Sampson) was born in 1944 and grew up in Warenga, just outside of Te Kauwhata in the North Island. Mary recalls that there were few career options for girls in those days – while her mother wanted her daughters to become teachers, Mary’s sister was a pharmacist, and Mary thought she might like to become a vet. However, her father was not keen on this idea, and so Mary chose nursing instead, a decision which she never regretted.
Mary began training at Waikato Hospital in 1962.The group in Mary’s training class were all female, and most were straight out of school. They had three months in Preliminary School before they began ward work, and Mary recalls feeling that she ‘couldn’t wait to get out into the real world’. They had to wear white uniforms with white shoes and stockings, and a blue uniform while not on the wards. They had to change into the blue uniform for meals, and Mary remembers that while they were living in Ryburn Nurses’ Home which was up a hill, it was difficult to fit in two uniform changes and a trek up the hill along with the meal. As a junior nurse, Mary cared for the patients who were almost ready to go home, and as she rose in seniority she cared for sicker patients. The students worked five days a week in eight-hour shifts. She describes typical duties of a junior nurse.
The hospital had a very strict discipline, which Mary thinks was ‘probably over the top’ and very different from current practice. The students were ‘in awe of the senior nurses and ward sisters’, they never used Christian names of patients, and they ‘crept away during doctors’ rounds’. They all worked as a team: the ward sisters oversaw everything that happened in the ward, and the staff nurses took responsibility for a group of patients with the students. Mary says they were ‘always very busy’. She found that she preferred medical nursing to surgical nursing as it allowed for more patient contact as people remained in hospital for long periods in those days. She explains how she valued her training on the wards.
Mary and five other students went flatting together in their second year. She recalls that they had an active social life but that she knew she wanted to get through her training. She graduated in 1965, and her flatmates came to the graduation ball although Mary was the only one of the group who had completed their training. She explains how they had regular tests throughout her training, but still remembers feeling very nervous before her final exams.
Mary worked as a staff nurse at Waikato Hospital for a year before going to London in 1966. She explains the transition from student to staff nurse.
In London Mary joined St John’s Nursing Agency, and worked in private homes and a few hospitals from 1966 to 1968. She remembers that New Zealand nurses were very popular and had a ‘good reputation’ overseas. She travelled around America before returning to New Zealand in 1969. She didn’t want to work in a big hospital, so she chose Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Rotorua. She remembers that work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital was ‘very intensive’ and that she learned on the job. The uniform there was white with brown shoes and stockings, and the nurses eventually persuaded the matron to let them wear sandals in the summer although they were never allowed to take their hats off. The matron, Rei Preston-Thomas, was a ‘stickler for the rules’, and ‘wore her veil until the day she retired’, but Mary admired her greatly.
Mary became Charge Nurse at Queen Elizabeth hospital in 1972, a position she held until 1991 when she became Nurse Manager and later Senior Rheumatology Nurse and Patient Care Co-ordinator. She describes Queen Elizabeth Hospital as being a ‘multi-disciplinary persistent pain programme’, and says that a big part of it was learning the line between ‘helping them to be independent and being too helpful’. She says she learned from the staff who were already there and that she should always ask the patient and enable the patient to look after themselves. In the late 1970s the hospital introduced patient self-management of medication, as the patients were taking their own medicine before they came into the hospital.
Mary remembers that the environment at Queen Elizabeth was always made to feel homely to ease the patients. She remained there for forty-four years, The Bay of Plenty Area Health Board had plans to close the hospital in the early 1990s, but it was made into a private company instead with a smaller workforce. Although her role changed over her time there time from staff or charge nursing to ones with a more management role, the patient remained the main purpose. She thinks that some of the caring focus of nursing is lost nowadays.
Mary married William in 1982 and believes nursing can fit into family life well. She has seen many changes, and although she thinks some are not for the better, such as the new focus on finances, she has ‘loved every minute’ – ‘nursing has been a wonderful reward’. She reflects on changes in nurse education over her career.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Mary Lean: