Sally Wagener (nee Howlett) was born in the Hawke’s Bay in 1949. She says that at the age of sixteen, considering her career options, she was drawn to nursing as she had a particular interest in community health and health changes over time.
She began training at Palmerston North Hospital while she was still sixteen. She remembers arriving at the hospital on her first day and being issued with her uniform. Her class consisted of girls around the same age, including two Maori and one Samoan girl. During the three-month Preliminary School they learnt ‘basic nursing’: bed making, how to get people out of bed, and about bedpans. They had five days a week in the classroom, and one day on the wards. After Prelim, they were on the wards full-time. Sally describes the high standards required.
As all the staff lived together, Sally says they ‘developed a tight knit community quickly’. There was a lot of teamwork: the nursing tasks changed with seniority, and no one was allowed off the ward until everyone had done their jobs. Sally says she was in awe of the ward sisters – ‘everything had to be done perfectly’. It was quite hierarchical: the junior nurses had little to do with the doctors, and they stood up when anyone more senior came in the room. As a second-year student, Sally’s class also had small cooking duties for the patients, and Sally remembers that ‘some girls who had been at boarding school found this quite a challenge’. During her training Sally became interested in chest medicine, and decided she would move to Green Lane Hospital after she graduated to learn more about it. She describes working on the wards, including the teamwork.
Sally was marginally aware that there was some dissatisfaction with nurse training, ‘but we were so busy’ that she did not pay much attention to it. Nurses had less freedom than teachers, the other main career option for women at the time, as they worked a six-day week. They were also on tight budgets, and while flatting sometimes got supplies of meat and vegetables from friends’ families. There were changes in nursing while Sally was training: disposable equipment started to come in, technology was changing and the nurses learnt on the job.
Students were required to live in the Nurses’ Home for the first eighteen months of training. She believes that living closely with other people helped with the emotional issues that went along with nursing: ‘everyone used to sit in the lounges and talk, it was like a big debrief’. She remembers that breaking the rules was the norm, and that they had a ‘creative approach to bed-checks’ at night. There was a strict hierarchy so the juniors had little to do with the senior nurses. Sally moved into a flat in her second year of training; they moved out because of the greater freedom this entailed.
Following her graduation in 1970, Sally applied to do a cardio-thoracic nursing course at Green Lane Hospital, and moved to Auckland shortly after, meaning she did not attend her graduation ceremony. She was interested in chest nursing but also interested in further education in general, ‘I wanted to know more about what I was doing’: ‘As a nurse I always came across situations where I needed more knowledge’. She enjoyed the course but did not finish it as she got appendicitis. She began working in the children’s ward instead, which led to an on-going ‘passion’ for children’s health.
In 1971 Sally and a colleague applied to do a paediatric nursing course in Perth, Australia, and were accepted. Her colleague didn’t stay long but Sally worked as a Staff Nurse at the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, Perth, and achieved her Postgraduate Paediatric Certificate there in 1971, before returning to New Zealand. She describes working in children’s health in Perth.
Sally had met her future husband Eric before moving to Perth, and became engaged on her return. She spent a few months working at Green Lane Hospital before moving to Northland and working at Kaitaia Hospital. While Sally’s children were small she did part-time work at a rest home, and then when they were older she went back to work at Kaitaia Hospital. She discusses how nursing fitted in in with family life.
Sally received her Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Child Health) in 1986 after a year of study at AUT in Auckland. In 1990, Sally became the Paediatric Resource Nurse (hospital and community) for the Northland Area Health Board, based in Whangarei. In 1994, when it became ‘fairly evident that resource nurse jobs would be cut back’, she applied for and received a New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation Scholarship with a focus on child health in rural areas. She travelled around Australia looking at rural nursing and nurse training. Sally did a Master of Arts degree at Victoria University of Wellington 1995-1999, which she found of great value. She explains what being a Resource Nurse entailed.
Sally is currently working part-time as a public health nurse, and as a Nurse Tutor in Community Health at Northland Polytechnic, and says she ‘can’t think of ever retiring’. She is glad she did the extra training and education. Sally believes it is important for her to be a part of the community, ‘to have earned my stripes’ so that she is aware of the protocol and can work with the pace of the community. She appreciates the education she has received and describes herself as a life-long learner.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Sally Wagener: