Rosemary Revell was born in Hastings in 1948, and attended St Joseph’s Convent in Hastings and later St Mary’s College in Auckland. Her mother had trained as a nurse at Hastings Hospital, and Rosemary worked as a kitchen hand at a rest home during the school holidays, so she was aware of nursing as a career option. Her brothers also went into healthcare, one becoming a doctor and the other doing some psychiatric nurse training.
Rosemary applied to the Auckland Hospital Board when she was eighteen, and began training at Middlemore Hospital in 1967. She remembers arriving at Middlemore: the students were measured for their uniforms and placed in rooms at the Nurses’ Home in alphabetical order. The uniforms were so stiff and starched ‘they could stand up on their own’. Rosemary was in a class of forty-eight girls, many of whom came from out of Auckland. She recalls being intimidated by some of the senior staff, especially the matron, Miss Barker.
Rosemary discusses her experiences as a student nurse. She remembers that her cohort were the ‘first ones to only work five days a week’ rather than six as previously for student nurses. She recalls the charge nurse in the orthopaedic ward telling them to ‘treat everyone as if they were one of your dearest relations’. The jobs in the wards were allocated by seniority, and so Rosemary’s duties changed over time. As a junior, she was responsible for a lot of the cleaning, and ‘you did as you were told’. The students worked closely with the doctors, and Rosemary says that ‘everyone knew everyone at Middlemore’. Throughout their training, the students had study blocks for a week or two at a time, and they were allowed to wear their own clothes as it ‘saved on the laundry’. The tutors matched their clinical work with classroom theory, as they needed to meet the requirement for certain numbers of hours in each clinical area. She describes what they learnt in Prelim School before going on the wards.
Students were expected to live in the Nurses’ Home in their first year, and Rosemary found it ‘very comfortable’. They had an eleven o’clock curfew, and if they wanted a late leave they would ask the home sister who was ‘a kindly person’. There was always someone to talk to in the Nurses’ Home. Seating in the dining room was initially organised by seniority, but by Rosemary’s second year they could sit wherever they liked; similarly, in the hospital they were no longer required to stand with their hands behind their backs when spoken to by a senior. Rosemary recalls one student who became pregnant, and remembers the matron being very discrete and allowing her to adopt the baby out and continue training. She also remembers the matron visiting every nurse sick with the flu one time it was going around – ‘she was very kind’. Once she was a staff nurse, Rosemary went flatting. She explains how students at Middlemore generally lived in the Nurses’ Home because of the distance from the city.
Rosemary was active in the Student Nurses’ Association, and became president. She says that staffing issues were of main concern and that they ‘had to do something about it’. There were exams held after each study block and nurses had to repeat the block if they failed, but Rosemary remembers that with working full-time they were often too tired to study. Rosemary graduated in 1970, and reflects on some of the changes in nurse education around that time.
Rosemary went straight onto night duty when she became a registered nurse, feeling she had ‘no choice’. She was a staff nurse at Middlemore Hospital for a year in a number of different departments, and was asked to be a tutor. However, she had plans to enter the convent, and wanted to consolidate her training for a year beforehand.
In 1971, Rosemary entered the convent at St Mary’s in Ponsonby and began her postulancy, an introduction to religious life. She drove the reverend mother and sisters to appointments, and helped serve lunch to the elderly nuns. She became a novice in 1972, and a year later she enrolled at Massey University for a Bachelor of Arts in Nursing Studies. She mixed her university study and study for the convent with practical nursing and teaching in a biology laboratory at St Mary’s College. She became a staff nurse at Mater Hospital in 1974, Charge Nurse of the Mater District Nursing Service from 1975 to 1978, and continued to work for the Mater Hospital for the next decade. By this time, Mater was no longer a nurse training school. Rosemary discusses the changes once nurses got university degrees.
In 1984, Rosemary gained a Certificate in Caring for the Older Age Group, at the Auckland Technical Institute. She became the Charge Nurse in Gerontology at Mater Hospital which she continued to do for ten years when the congregation opened its own geriatric hospital to free up the wards at Mater (now called Mercy Hospital). In 1989, Rosemary volunteered for service at a clinic in Samoa. She also took a sabbatical in Australia, studying and working in mission areas, and returned to Samoa in 1991. She came back to New Zealand in 1994 and did teacher training, completing her Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching in 1995. She spent further time working in Samoa and in a convent in Ireland, as well as teaching Home Economics in a school in the Bay of Plenty.
Rosemary explains that at the time of her nurse training it was expected that a nursing nun would spend fifty or more years working in a hospital, so she ‘had to learn to get on with people’. Nursing has given her many opportunities, and she has seen many changes in technology over her career: ‘what was extraordinary became basic’. She is still doing work with St Mary’s convent, still using her nurse training and identifies as a nurse.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Rosemary Revell: