Born in Hamilton 1940, Pat Oettli grew up in Dargaville. Pat left school at aged 16 and worked as a nurse aide at Dargaville Hospital for a year. She was determined to be a nurse from a young age, influenced by novels such as those by Sue Barton. One of her older sisters had trained as a nurse at Auckland Hospital, but Pat and her friend decided to train at Waikato Hospital: ‘We liked the look of the Peter Pan collars’. She had an aunt in Hamilton, so her parents supported her decision.
Pat began her training in 1958, there were 42 in her class; 24 of them sat the final examinations in 1961. She recalls that many patients in the 1950s stayed in hospital for a long time, sometimes on total bed-rest. Patients on the wards during her training included those who had had heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis, and tuberculosis, and one patient had hydatid cysts.
Pat describes the Nurses’ Home as very similar to a boarding school, with the Home Sisters taking on a surrogate parent role. Visitors were allowed during the day time in the sitting-room, but never in the bedrooms.
Pat came from a family of five girls, and so found it luxurious to have endless bath water, being able to stay in her dressing gown all day, and access to food with no rationing. With all meals and accommodation provided, they ‘never felt poor’, and for most this was the first money they had earned. The trainee nurses made their own clothes, knitted, rode bicycles and so they didn’t spend a lot. The nurses formed groups, and went on holiday together; they didn’t fraternise with girls from other years. Smoking was ‘the cool thing to do’; they smoked in their bedrooms. Pat recalls the Nurses’ Home with a balcony out front; ‘local males would come up and sit outside and toot their horns’. She recalls the doctors’ residence, Lindisfarne, as ‘famous for its parties’.
Hers was the first class under a new curriculum which included obstetrics in the general nurse training. After graduating in 1961, she undertook midwifery training at Wellington where she topped the New Zealand midwifery examinations in 1962. She then became tutor sister in the Preliminary School at Green Lane Hospital, but one day she met Joan Coles, the matron of St Helens, and said she missed midwifery; Coles said ‘Come back’, and so she did.
In 1965 she accompanied her husband on a sabbatical to Germany, and ended up taking a seven-year break from nursing/midwifery during which time she had three children. She went back to full-time nursing in 1972 when the children were aged 5, 7 and 9 respectively.
Returning to midwifery at Waikato Hospital in 1972, from 1975 to 1980 she was Charge Nurse (Midwifery). Following a stint as tutor at Waikato Polytechnic in 1982-3 (at that time she had started doing a Diploma in Nursing Studies at Massey University, which she completed in 1989), she became Senior Supervisor (Midwifery) at Waikato Hospital in 1984, the midwifery representative on Nursing Council (1984-1990), and then Manager of Waikato Women’s Hospital from 1990 to 1994. In 1994 she helped set up a new fertility clinic based in Hamilton as a branch of Fertility Associates, where she worked until 2008.
In 1998 she was invited, and brought her considerable nursing skills to bear, on a new role as Community Magistrate, a post which she feels her nursing career prepared her for and which held for the next twelve years.