Patricia (Pat) Carroll was born in 1944, and grew up in Dunedin. She was ‘always determined to be a nurse’, becoming attracted to the career after spending time in hospital as a child. Her older sister was also a nurse. Her father did not think nursing was a suitable career, but came around.
Pat began training at Dunedin Hospital in 1962. There were forty-seven girls in her class, and by the time they had finished the three-year training there were only eleven of the original class left. The students had purple dresses with porcelain buttons and white shoes and stockings and a white cap, and in the wards they wore a white overall. Pat says that ‘we were the cleaners’, situated mostly in the pan or instrument rooms. She describes her first day in the Nurses’ Home.
Pat’s class spent three months in Preliminary School with ‘progressive exposure to the wards ... from about the third week’. After Prelim they were on the wards full-time. The senior nurses did the dressings, the intermediate nurses did the bed-pans, and the junior nurses did everything else: the sponges, making the beds, admitting the patients, fluid rounds – all ‘in a hurry’. On morning shift they had breakfast between 7.30 and 8am, and ‘raced across the main road of the city to the Nurses’ Home’ – Pat says they became the ‘fastest eaters in New Zealand’. They worked six days a week with study blocks in between. She recounts that their work schedule ‘made me into a trade unionist’ as they would come off duty to find a note on their doors saying their day off had been cancelled. They had a lot to do with the doctors, but there was still a distinct hierarchy. Their training included obstetrics, and as the older nurses still had to do their maternity training, ‘we always felt we were so much more superior to them’. Pat describes their training, including the advice from a sister who had trained in psychology and from a medical officer.
Pat lived in the Nurses’ Home at Dunedin Hospital, and also at the Nurses’ Homes at the hospitals they went to for their training. She remembers that the Nurses’ Home at Wakari Hospital was quite new, but that it was very strict and ‘not the happiest part of training’. The nurses did sometimes complain about the living conditions in the Nurses’ Home. Pat recalls that there was the possibility of flatting in third year, and that once the students got their parents involved, the hospital board finally agreed – she says that Dunedin was ‘all about flatting’. She describes acting as a spokesperson for the nurses at a meeting with the matron on the use of the lounge in the Nurses’ Home.
There were rules around social activities in the Nurses’ Home; there was an 11 o’clock curfew and nurses had to sign a book if going out on their days off. She recalls that everyone smoked, but alcohol was never really a part of social life as they ‘had to be on duty early the next morning’. The hospital also had a drama group, and they went around putting on one-act plays. Pat remembers some ‘rebellion’ against the rules.
Some of Pat’s classmates left in first year, ‘mostly because they wanted to get married’, one or two because they got pregnant and were not allowed to stay, and several because they failed their exams. There were written and practical exams, and Pat remembers doing the pill round as part of one of her exams: she recalls that ‘all the patients were very supportive’. It was tradition to be given a medal to wear after their final exams until they got their own. Pat describes the exam schedule.
Pat worked as a staff nurse at Dunedin Hospital for two years after she graduated in 1965. She also taught a new introductory class, which she enjoyed. There was no initial orientation for teaching, but on the principal tutor’s suggestion Pat took a course in 1967 at the School of Advanced Nursing Studies in Wellington, which was a six-week course and a ‘perfect introduction’ to teaching. She describes her introduction to the responsibilities of ward work at Dunedin Hospital.
Pat completed her Advanced Diploma in Nursing in 1970, and after that she studied English and Education at Otago University. She recalls that in 1970, there was ‘a huge amount of unrest about nursing’: the training process for nurses was changing to become tertiary-based, and Pat says that ‘we were part of that, I loved that’, ‘it gave me a real focus for the future’. She was a nurse tutor at Dunedin School of Nursing for five years, from 1967 to 1972, and explains that it was around 1970 that she learnt what nursing was all about.
Pat’s family were living in Whangarei, so Pat applied to become the principal tutor at the Northland School of Nursing in 1972 where she taught about thirty students in each class. She was on the professional services committee of the New Zealand Nurses’ Association at this stage where there were plans to eradicate schools of nursing. Pat says that this affected where girls could go for employment as there were not many other opportunities. Pat was appointed to the Nursing Council, and later was approached to become a Senior Nurse Advisor to the Nursing Council in Wellington in 1977. Her main role was investigating complaints and questions of nurses’ practice. Changes to nursing education were ‘well underway’, and this was a major issue for the Nursing Council. Pat was invited to apply for the position of Executive Director of the New Zealand Nurses’ Association, and made the hard decision to give up the Nursing Council for ‘a real challenge’ in 1983. She says she was disappointed in the polytechnic courses as they moved nursing away from small towns and did not promote internships in community settings. She reflects on her time on the Nursing Council.
Pat then joined the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary and went to work in hospitals in Fiji, Suva, Naleba and India. She also lived in Dessau on the east side of the German border where the Sisters were setting up hospices. Pat returned to Whangarei in 1995, becoming the national coordinator for Family Planning, and in 2001 an occupational health nurse at a refinery in Marsden Point. Pat retired in 2012. Pat believes nursing has given her a ‘wonderful life’. She says that the ‘head part of nursing is very strong now’, and hopes that ‘we do not lose the heart and the hands part’. She reflects on the exciting opportunities that nursing offered her.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Pat Carroll: