Patricia Elizabeth (Pat) Klouwens (nee Watkinson) was born Auckland in 1933. Her family moved from the country to the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby in 1943, because her father’s poor health meant that he could no longer work on the farm. Pat tells of leaving school early, only having attended two years of secondary education. Initially she had been interested in becoming a veterinarian but it was too expensive for her family with three younger brothers to be educated and she had not completed secondary school. She and her parents decided that nursing would be the next best career choice for her.
Accepted into nurse training at Auckland Hospital in April 1951, Pat began training by attending preliminary school at Market Road. The academic nature of the preliminary course was initially challenging for Pat, but she soon took it in her stride. Nursing tasks were also taught thoroughly. Pat recalls that student nurses ‘spent ages’ learning how to sterilise equipment and make beds meticulously. The preliminary class was split up between Auckland, Green Lane and Middlemore Hospitals for ward training. Pat remembers that the girls from higher socio-economic strata who had been schooled in Remuera tended to go Green Lane Hospital.
It was compulsory to live-in at the Nurses’ Home when training. Pat describes the ‘really strict’ curfews and rules that existed. There were severe consequences for breaking the rules of the Nurses’ Home. She recalls two girls were dismissed for being found in the same room after hours. There were also strict rules with regards to nurses’ uniforms; dresses had to be a certain length and they could never be worn outside the hospital. On the wards Pat remembers being terrified of some sisters, because the practices were so rigid and everything had to be perfectly ordered.
Nurses formed close friendships training and living together. They would often socialise together outside of the hospital. Pat recounts going for outings to the beach and the movies, or walking in the domain and visiting the Winter Gardens. Dances were also a popular pastime. Pat recalls that occasionally nurses would hold dances at the hospital, inviting sailors from the navy or ships that were in port.
Qualifying as a registered nurse in December 1954, Pat stayed on at Auckland hospital as a Staff Nurse. After six months she decided to train in maternity nursing because she felt it was important for her career. Upon completion of her maternity nurse training Pat returned to Auckland Hospital where she worked as a Theatre Sister. In this role Pat found that she could use her own initiative. She describes pre-empting the surgeon’s needs before he was aware of them.
Although she enjoyed theatre nursing, Pat describes needing a change because she felt the job was impersonal; patients were viewed as numbers rather than people. Pat left theatre nursing to work in a private practice that specialised in urology. Private practice did not have the same doctor-nurse hierarchy that existed in the hospital and there was the opportunity to get to know patients. Pat also developed some valuable new skills such as male catheterisation, and taking blood pressures.
In 1963 Pat began working at Tokoroa Hospital. After working there for some time Pat recognised that she was limited in the tasks that she could undertake because she had not trained in midwifery. She did her maternity training at Franklin Memorial Hospital, and qualified as a midwife at Auckland’s St Helens Hospital in 1965. She explains that St Helens Hospitals were staffed by midwives and as a result there was little competition for deliveries compared to other maternity hospitals such as National Women’s where ‘you fought the doctors’ because they had to attend a certain number of deliveries.
Pat then worked at Fairleigh Obstetric Hospital for a little over a year from 1965. The hospital was a Motherhood of Man Movement Home which cared for pregnant unmarried women as well as being a private hospital. Pat explains that all the single women gave their babies up for adoption at Fairleigh. It was a time before contraception was widely used and there were many children up for adoption. Pat reflects that it was ‘sad’ that many girls did not have family support. They were ‘shunned’ and sent away to have the baby.
Pat worked nine months as a Labour Ward Sister at St Helens Hospital, before she decided to apply for a district nursing position in December 1967. In district nursing Pat found her niche: ‘I loved it’. District nursing was different from nursing in a hospital; when working in the community it was not only about the patient, it was about looking at the family as a whole.
Pat completed nursing post-graduate study in Wellington and returned to Auckland. Now married and with two young children, she became a supervisor of district nurses at North Shore from 1974. However, she missed the camaraderie and hands-on care of patients that district nursing offered. Pat returned to district nursing in 1980, a role she continued in until her retirement in 2012 at 78 years old. Pat reflects that nursing was the best career option for her when she left school and she still loves it to this day.