Rosemary Ellyett (nee Raper), born 1938, grew up in the Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier. As the eldest of five children, Rosemary often looked after her younger siblings, an experience that she reflects may have influenced her interest in nursing. After gaining school certificate at age sixteen, she had to wait a couple of years before she could go nursing. During this time Rosemary became a cadet nurse at Auckland Hospital. She worked in medical and children’s wards as a nurse aide with tasks such as distributing drinks, cleaning floors, and damp dusting. Rosemary believed that was what nursing would entail.
In 1956, once she had turned eighteen, Rosemary applied to train as a nurse. Ninety girls attended the Auckland School of Nursing preliminary school. Rosemary recalls a sense of nervousness and trepidation permeating the group on their first day of prelim. The girls in her cohort came from all over Auckland and some from other parts of New Zealand. Rosemary recalls that some men were being trained as nurses at the time but they were taught separately and ‘only in the urological ward’. Starting out as a nursing student Rosemary recalls being ‘lorded over by the sister who looked after us’. She had expected to have more independence having left home but in reality ‘you were back to being a five year old again’. There were strict rules and regulations regarding the nurses’ practices and behaviour. There was a curfew of 10:30pm after which the doors to the nurses’ home were locked.
After prelim Rosemary asked to be placed at Auckland Hospital because she liked that it had the most specialties within one hospital. Nursing students went to different hospitals to experience different specialisations. Middlemore was the place for orthopaedic experience, and gynaecology was done at National Women’s Hospital. Rosemary reflects that the Auckland hospitals also differed in their social dynamics and atmosphere.
Infectious diseases were common in hospital and antibiotic medications were limited. Diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis and whooping cough were some of the common diseases that existed at the time. Dealing with patients suffering from these diseases could lead to some distressing experiences for young nurse trainees. Rosemary explains that crying was not the done thing: ‘you shielded yourself by not showing your emotions’. She recounts that living in the nurses’ home always gave student nurses somebody to talk to after being on duty. You could debrief and share experiences.
Nurses formed close friendships. There was a sense of camaraderie within the same year groups, but girls tended to form smaller groups of closer friends. Rosemary remembers going on holiday with her close friends. Having only one day off a week as a student nurse meant that there was not a lot of time for social activities. Rosemary recalls that some of the single nurses would attend dances on their day off at Orange Hall on Symonds Street or the Civic. Rosemary had a boyfriend before she began nursing school. She became engaged to Ron during her training, but waited until she had registered to get married. She remembers that Ron would wait outside the Nurses’ Home in his car to pick her up. ‘The boys didn’t come in very often’.
Marrying in 1959, Rosemary took some time away from nursing. She explains that although women could continue nursing after getting married they were not encouraged to do so. Rosemary had the first of her three children in 1960 and she had no intention of returning to work until she met a woman at her son’s kindergarten who was also a nurse.
She returned to work in 1963 for two days a week doing night shifts through the Angels Nursing Bureau. In 1965 Rosemary took up a part-time role at a private hospital in Epsom. There was a degree of flexibility working in private hospitals that was useful for fitting in with family life. She found the return to work very rewarding. Rosemary reflects that going back to nursing she felt like she was herself again and more than just a wife and mother. ‘I had my identity back again’.
In 1971 Rosemary attended a refresher course at Green Lane Hospital. Initially she had no intention of returning to work at a public hospital but was offered part-time work and decided to go back. Although she had been away from public hospitals for twelve years Rosemary did not find that there were any dramatic differences. The essence of nursing had remained the same: ‘It’s still looking after the person’.
In 1974 Rosemary was interested in increasing her hours and was offered a full-time role as the night supervisor. She found that Green Lane Hospital was a nicer place to work than Auckland Hospital. It was more personal and there was much more of a ‘family atmosphere’. In 1984, Rosemary took on a new role as a duty manager in which she was responsible for staffing the hospital and dealing with problems on the ward. After nearly twenty years in the role, Rosemary was moved to the position as Bed Manager at Auckland Hospital when the major services were closed at Green Lane. Rosemary’s daughter and granddaughter have both gone on to have nursing careers. Reflecting on her own career Rosemary describes finding nursing both rewarding and challenging and would ‘probably do it again’. Nursing gave her the ability to have her independence and to be an individual.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Rosemary Ellyett: