Winsome Larkins (nee Dalgety) was born in Oamaru in November 1935. As the middle child in a family of nine she describes having a lot of hands-on experience of caring for her younger siblings. Winsome’s mother decided that she should be a nurse, so she began nurse aiding at age fifteen after two years of secondary school. As a nurse aide at Oamaru Private Hospital she lived in at the Nurses’ Home for three years. In 1955 she left nurse aiding to take on nurse training upon the matron’s suggestion.
Winsome began nurse training at Dunedin Hospital in a class of seventeen girls who came from all over the South Island. They were dispensed with uniforms that Winsome describes as ‘very smart’. There were particular uniforms that were worn on the wards that had to be discarded before the nurse left the wards.
Initially nursing students attended preliminary school for two months where they learned about different nursing equipment and were taught bed making and ‘the right way to clean’. When work began on the wards, Winsome explains that the first-year student nurses were given more basic tasks of cleaning and tidying. As they progressed through training the nurses’ responsibilities increased to include doing dressings, setting up trays and screening patients. Winsome recalls that it was only the senior nurses who would administer medicines and by the third year nursing students would be in charge of a ward on afternoon or night duty. There were good support systems in place so that there was someone to call on if the need arose.
The hospital had an established hierarchy. Only the more senior nurses would interact with the doctors on the wards. Winsome recounts being intimidated by the doctors. When they came around the wards for rounds everything had to be perfect. During training the nursing students were required to live in at the Nurses’ Home, which had some strict rules. Student nurses were not allowed to have male visitors in their rooms and they had to be home by 11pm. Winsome remarked that the 11pm curfew was not actually too restrictive because they worked so hard at the hospital the girls had to be sensible about going out. She recounts that nurses were content with their pay because board and meals were provided.
Living away from her family, Winsome recalls feeling homesick. She would keep in touch with her mother and younger siblings by telephoning them on a regular basis. Student nurses usually had one day off a week which Winsome would use to visit home. Sometimes she was able accumulate her days off so she could spend a couple of days with her family.
Because they lived and worked together the student nurses developed close friendships. They would attend dances together and go to the movies or the beach in their time off. Smoking was a common practice amongst nurses in the 1950s. Winsome describes starting smoking because everyone else did. There was no awareness of the health risks of smoking in those days.
Winsome found the exams quite challenging and did not pass the state exam the first time so re-sat the exam after six months. When she had completed her exams Winsome went to Seacliff Mental Hospital to work as a nurse in 1959. She was motivated to work there largely because of the good pay that psychiatric nurses received. Having become engaged at the end of her training, working at Seacliff provided her with a chance to earn some good money before marriage. At Seacliff Winsome was responsible for supervising and caring for patients. Only trained psychiatric nurses administered medications, not the staff nurses who had been trained in general nursing. Seacliff staff were segregated between the male and female wards. This meant that Winsome and other female nurses only nursed female patients and the male attendants cared for male patients.
After a year Winsome left Seacliff and married Jim in 1959. From 1961 she began working at Rawhiti Maternity Hospital in Dunedin which was close to their home. She worked as a general nurse in the maternity home taking on roles such as caring for babies in the nursery. In 1963 when the first of her four children was born she stopped nursing and took almost twenty years off to care for and raise her children. In 1983, when her youngest child was twelve years old, she took a role as a nurse at St Luke’s Geriatric Hospital. Working there for six years until her retirement in 1991, Winsome had higher levels responsibilities as a registered nurse. Her role involved ensuring that the patients were fed, showered, dressed and supervised. Winsome says that she ‘just loved geriatric nursing’ and found it the most enjoyable aspect of her career.