Stephanie (Steph) Parker (nee Brice) was born in Auckland in 1949. When she left school in the early sixth form in 1966, she got a job in the Haemoglobin Unit at the Auckland Blood Transfusion Service, which she found extremely interesting.
Sister Montgomery (Monty) at the Blood Transfusion Service suggested that Steph take up nursing and arranged for an interview at the Auckland School of Nursing. Steph began her training at Auckland Hospital in 1967, and explains that she found her first day a ‘nervy sort of a day’. At Preliminary School the students were taught skills and techniques of patient care in the classroom and on a mock ward. They were taught strict attention to detail, for which they needed to learn discipline. The students had plenty of time to socialise, ‘but I must say, we worked very, very hard when we were in the wards. And I think we all took our work at work very seriously. And we were very proud of our work ... we were practical people, and I guess that's why we went nursing really.’ Steph describes the Prelim School.
Steph recalls that they were given ‘huge responsibilities’ as junior nurses, much more so than today. They learned on the wards from the senior nurses, and worked as teams. The morning shift was all about getting patients up and washed, and the afternoon shift about getting patients washed and into bed. Steph said they avoided the ward sisters as much as possible – there was ‘always something you hadn’t done right. They were very regimental’ – and that their relationship with the senior nurses was one of authority and subservience. Despite that, Steph feels quite privileged by the training she received.
Steph lived in the Nurses’ Home at Auckland Hospital, and says that the curfew hours were never a problem: ‘if you were late, you stayed out’, but she can’t remember how she always got away with it. The nurses had boyfriends and went to dances, movies, coffee bars and to hear music. Steph met her future husband Rob while training and they married after she qualified in 1970; many others became engaged during training and left after graduation. Near the end of her training, Steph went flatting with a group from the hospital, and says that as a result she never went shopping because they didn’t have enough money. She describes the discipline of the Nurses’ Home.
Steph felt pleased she was working towards a qualification, and says that this motivated her when it got tough, although she remembers there was a fairly high attrition rate. Steph graduated in 1970 and remembers the pride when she received her staff nurse epaulets. She was placed in the children’s medical ward at Auckland Hospital after she qualified, where she had a sense of pride and privilege. She describes her fourth year in nursing, working as a staff nurse.
Steph worked in that ward for a year before moving to Palmerston North with her husband’s job. In Palmerston North she became a sister, and stayed there for another year, before moving to Wellington to work as a staff sister at Wellington Hospital. She also nursed at Masterton and Hastings Hospitals before she and her husband travelled to Europe in 1975. A decade later, after returning to New Zealand and having four children, Steph began working at Whangarei Hospital. She explains that she had no refresher course after almost ten years away, which caused her some anxiety, but that she was ‘very lucky’ because ‘it was the first time in my career that you actually had a say, you were actually listened to, that you actually were part of a team’, which contrasted the earlier hospital hierarchy. She did a four-month paediatric nurse course at Unitec in Auckland in 1997, which she says was ‘one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done’ in nursing, and undertook a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing at Northland Polytechnic. She found the Bachelor’s degree very useful, as she explains, and later also did a Postgraduate Diploma in Respiratory Nursing at the University of Auckland.
In 2000, Steph and her family moved to the Bay of Plenty. She was a charge nurse very briefly at Whakatane Hospital and then had a cover role at Tauranga Hospital for a year. She then became a nurse educator, tutoring healthcare assistants at the Bay of Plenty Polytech, before returning to the Tauranga Hospital children’s ward. She explains her role teaching healthcare assistants.
Steph says the changes in nursing education have made nurses think – current nurse graduates need more support on the wards because have not been trained to be hospital nurses. She has always had a ‘love/hate thing’ with nursing, but since returning to nursing in 1985 has loved it, and feels she can make a difference as an individual. She has had to adapt to a number of things over the years, including speaking to and tutoring groups of nurses and operating computers, and explains how they began as hospital nurses but now have other skills ‘that have come after what we actually trained for’. A change she reflects upon is the more informal relationships between health professionals.