Born 1939 in Patea, Taranaki, Sylvia Lord grew up on a farm with her parents and four siblings in the Waikato. Sylvia left secondary school after two years. Her father was more interested and encouraging of education, whereas her mother believed that it was a woman’s role to get married and have babies. Upon leaving school Sylvia took a job at Eltham Geriatric and Maternity Hospital as a nurse aide. She applied for nursing school when she was eligible (girls had to be eighteen years old to begin training), entering Auckland School of Nursing in 1957.
In preliminary nursing school the students were known as ‘pupil nurses’. The duties included cleaning and damp dusting as well as sponging patients and bed-panning. Nurses’ responsibilities increased as they advanced through training. Junior nurses did the most menial tasks and would learn from more senior students. Sylvia describes student nurses being at the bottom of the hierarchical hospital system. She reflects that the hierarchy had some merits in that everyone knew their role and people just accepted it.
Student nurses lived in the nurses’ home. The rules there were stricter for junior nurses than they were for more senior students. For instance first years had to be home by 11pm whereas second-year nurses could stay out until 1am. There were repercussions for breaking the rules of the nurses’ home. Sylvia recalls that the home sister disciplined the girls by putting them on CBs (confined to barracks) for two weeks.
After completion of the seven week preliminary training, Sylvia was assigned to train primarily at Green Lane Hospital. Nurses moved around hospitals to gain experience in different types of nursing. They would attend Green Lane Hospital for tuberculosis, Auckland Hospital for infectious diseases and paediatrics, Middlemore Hospital for orthopaedics, and National Women's Hospital for gynaecology. Sylvia’s class was the first to go to North Shore Hospital to train in obstetrics, as the specialisation had just been introduced to the nursing curriculum.
Sylvia describes student nurses forming close friendships with one another. These friendships were important to them as they would often offload the anxieties and emotions they faced when dealing with patients. ‘You talked it over with your mates…that’s why we became close friends’.
Student nurses spent much of their leisure time together. Sylvia describes Green Lane as ‘very social’. The student nurses would attend dances and parties, some of which were held in the dining room of the nurses’ home. Alcohol consumption was a part of these social occasions. ‘Girls didn’t drink much, but boys did’.
After completing training in 1960 Sylvia stayed on at Green Lane Hospital as a Staff Nurse. In 1961 she decided to travel to Canada with some friends. There, she worked at St Vincent’s Catholic Hospital for a year. There were some significant differences from New Zealand in the practices and roles of nurses. In Canada the nurses had to buy and launder their own uniforms, and pay for their meals. Putting in an intravenous drip was common practice in Canada but was not taught to nurses in New Zealand.
Upon her return to New Zealand in 1962, Sylvia took up a role in Intensive Care at Green Lane Hospital. In 1964, driven by her aspiration to be a District Nurse, she left Green Lane Hospital to undertake a midwifery course. She first went to National Women’s Hospital to gain experience in obstetrics and then went on to St Helens Christchurch to study midwifery in 1965. After completing her training Sylvia took a job at Hawera Maternity Hospital as a midwife, before returning to Auckland to work at Middlemore Hospital in 1966. After a year at Middlemore Sylvia applied for a district nurse position that had become available in South Auckland. She explains that there was no specific training to become a district nurse; however a six week course on community nursing that she attended in Wellington was very useful.
As a district nurse Sylvia was provided with a flat to live in and a car. The duties of a district nurse typically involved bathing and caring for elderly people, and visiting patients to give the injections such as streptomycin. Sylvia also provided care for terminally ill patients, by administering morphine as pain relief. District nursing often required her to work weekends and she was often on call. Having had a daughter in 1972, Sylvia decided to change to Plunket nursing in 1982 because it fitted in better with family life.
Sylvia enjoyed her work with Plunket and got on well with the committee. She was involved with fundraising and also organised a mothers’ coffee group. In 1992 Sylvia went back to district nursing. She encountered some significant changes upon her return. Hospice was more involved in the care of terminal patients and pain relief had improved. Sylvia describes there being a greater need for long acting penicillin for treating rheumatic fever than there had been before. Sylvia continued in her role as a district nurse until her retirement in 2004.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Sylvia Lord: