Mary Wentworth (nee Lott) was born in Auckland in 1942 and attended St Cuthberts College. When she was a child, her grandmother got cancer, and Mary helped her mother care for her; she became interested in nursing as a result of that experience as well as her love of biology.
Mary applied to Auckland School of Nursing when she left school but was turned down because she was not seventeen yet. Her other grandmother lived near Mater Misericordiae Hospital and got Mary an interview there, and she began training shortly afterwards in 1959. There were twenty-two girls in Mary’s class from a variety of geographic areas including Fiji. There weren’t enough rooms for all the students so they lived at home for the first six weeks. Mary met her good friends Erin on the bus ride into the hospital. As a junior nurse, they were ‘buddied’ with a more senior nurse, and Mary says they ‘ran around with them all day’. The ward sister was always a nun, and the nun’s convent was connected to the hospital – Mary says this was a ‘very caring, nurturing way to be trained’. The junior nurses were in charge of the cleaning when the cleaning staff weren’t there, as well as other non-nursing tasks. She describes the uniform.
In those days, surgical patients were not sent home for about two weeks, so there was a lot of bed nursing to do. Mary remembers that they were taught ‘tremendous respect for patients’ and their individuality. She discusses the public and private wards at the Mater Hospital.
Mary lived in the Nurses’ Home at Mater Hospital. All the juniors and seniors were together in the same home, so it was ‘like a big extended family’. They had their meals in the main dining room at the hospital, and they ‘never ate with the nuns’. The students were allowed two late passes a week, and if they arrived after ten o’clock the doors were locked: they had to come through the hospital and have the night supervisor nun sign them in and escort them to the Nurses’ Home.
Mary says they did not have a lot of time for a social life, ‘but we did have some fun’. They went to the movies or to dances, and went home on their days off. Mary also did fencing with a school friend and joined a choir at St Pauls, so she made friends outside of nursing. She says that alcohol wasn’t really a part of their social life, but that everyone smoked.
After Mary graduated in 1962, she worked for a year as a staff nurse and saved money for travel. As a staff nurse, she had to move into the private wards as there was not enough room for the registered nurses and all the students in the public wards. She travelled for four months with her sister through Pakistan, Iran, Jordan and Syria, before settling and working in London, and later South Africa, in 1965. She returned to New Zealand in 1966 because she missed her family and friends. She describes how she combined nursing with travel.
Mary did her midwifery training at St Helen’s Hospital, and worked there as a midwife. She then enrolled in a post-registration Theatre Nursing course in Wellington in 1968 – she says they were known as ‘theatre post-graduate students’ and had ‘TPGS’ on their name badges. Mary then spent time in the cardio-thoracic centre at Green Lane Hospital before returning to Mater Hospital as a charge nurse in 1969, and she remembers having a ‘great feeling of camaraderie and teamwork’. She reflects on her work in midwifery at St Helen’s Hospital.
Mary wanted to expand her opportunities to have more involvement with patients, and so she became trained as a Youthline counsellor, and later moved into occupational health nursing. From 1973 to 1975 she worked at New Zealand Forest Products doing health checks, and says her theatre nurse experience also came in handy when doing stitches. Mary met her husband John there; they married in 1975 and went on to have two children. She explains the variety of her work in occupational health nursing.
Mary had kept in contact with the nuns at Mater Hospital (now renamed Mercy Hospital), and became a Nurse Supervisor there in 1982. By this time there were no more student nurses at the hospital and only private wards. Mary was also studying management at university, and she became involved with pay award negotiation discussions and eventually the Employment Contracts Act 1991. From 1985 to 1994 she was Human Resources Manager at Mercy Hospital, and reflects on the importance of a management role to patient care.
Mary left Mercy in 1995 and began working with the District Health Board. She had kept up her nursing practising certificate but did not renew it at this point as she made the decision to stay in human resources. Mary also completed her Postgraduate Business Diploma in 1993. Mary believes that nursing has enabled her to have a career with a passion for health and seeing how different disciplines with healthcare work together.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Mary Wentworth: