Born in Wellington in 1948, Margaret Williamson (nee Maguire) and her family moved around the North Island for her father’s work as Margaret was growing up. Her mother and aunt were trained nurses and her uncle was a doctor. Margaret recalls always wanting to be a nurse. She applied to Palmerston North nurse training school in her final year of school.
Beginning nurse training in January 1966, Margaret describes the preliminary class being made up mostly of girls straight out of school. At Prelim they were taught anatomy, physiology, and nursing techniques such as sponging patients and how to lift patients. Margaret recounts that there was an expectation that nurses would perform tasks once and do them well.
On the wards, junior nurses’ duties included making beds, doing bedpans, showering patients and making suppers for the senior nurses. Middle (second-year student) nurses had duties such as brushing the patients’ teeth and doing sputum rounds. Margaret comments that she found that what the students learned in block courses matched well with the ward experience. She recalls that nurses learnt on the wards guided by middle and senior nurses.
Student nurses were not to speak to doctors on the wards as there was a clear hospital hierarchy. The ward sister communicated the doctors’ orders to the junior staff. There was also a distinct hierarchy between nurses. Student nurses always had to stand when the ward sister entered the room.
With the permission of their parents, nursing students were allowed to go flatting after eighteen months of training, which they were keen to do because of the reprieve it gave them from the hospital environment. She recalls that the Nurses’ Home had strict rules. Alcohol was strictly forbidden from the Home. Margaret remembers one girl being immediately dismissed for having alcohol in her room. Visitors were not allowed to go into the nurses’ rooms. There was a 10pm curfew, although late passes could be applied for, and the home sister would check that they were in bed at that time.
Going to the pictures was a popular pastime for student nurses. They also regularly attended country dances. At a Newbury Hall dance Margaret met John to whom she became engaged while she was still training.
Throughout her training Margaret had enjoyed working in the neonatal ward and worked there once she became a registered nurse in 1969. After they got married in 1970, Margaret and John moved to Gisborne and Margaret applied to work at Cook Hospital. She was offered a position as Tutor Sister which involved teaching the preliminary nursing students. Margaret recalls finding some significant differences between Cook and Palmerston North Hospitals. The atmosphere was more relaxed and less organised at Cook Hospital. The patients and illnesses also differed. Margaret recounts that there were a lot of Māori patients at Cook Hospital and that many children presented with talipes (club foot) and scarlet fever.
Margaret and John moved again in 1971, and Margaret got a job at Wairoa Hospital as Night Supervisor and subsequently Staff Sister. Margaret had three children between 1972 and 1977. When the family moved to Whangarei in 1976, Margaret took a job working a couple of night shifts a week at Whangarei Hospital. She describes her strategies for coping with night duty whilst caring for three small children.
Because of changes in nursing education, in 1977 Margaret decided to take some tertiary courses in nursing at Massey University. She later completed a Paediatric Graduate Diploma at Northland Polytechnic in 1991. This helped in her paediatric nursing work at Northland Base Hospital in Whangarei where she has worked since 1976. Reflecting on her career Margaret describes having loved nursing and she explains that the variability of paediatrics has meant that she continues to learn about the practice.