Fifty years on, health professionals go back to hospital

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Pene Clifford, Irene Gallagher, Lois McTaggart and Angela Grieve in front of the hospital where they began nurse training 50 years ago.

By Mick Jensen

A life-long friendship was established 50 years ago when four trainee nurses started at Ashburton Hospital.

On February 11, 1969 fresh-faced recruits Angela Grieve, Lois McTaggart, Irene Gallagher and Pene Clifford began three years of training that would earn them the qualification of Registered General Obstetric Nurse.

The four got together again at the hospital at the weekend.

All 17 or 18 when they started, the first step for the young women was their own medical and a chest x-ray to check they did not have Tb.

Theoretical training was in the brick building opposite the nurses hostel where they all lived.

Angela Grieve said the matron of the day was the legendary Muriel Fowke, who kept a chair outside of her office for nurses with whom she was unhappy.

Nurse training was very thorough and there were stints on all seven wards and a taste of areas such as surgical, medical and maternity.

“Student nurses in those days were all young, single and quite demure women.

“We worked hard, had lots of fun and and lived and worked together.

“We had a 10pm curfew in the hostel and Miss Gordy and Miss McFarlane enforced it.”

Mrs Grieve said there were strict rules about attire and there was no jewellery or nail polish allowed and hair had to be tied back.

She had chosen nursing because it “was the lesser of evils” compared with university, secretarial work or teaching.

She had been a nurse on night duty at Ashburton Hospital for 15 years and also worked in district nursing in Methven until 2009.

Pene Clifford retired from nursing late last year after a career of almost 50 years, much of it in Christchurch.

Lois McTaggart is still nursing and has been a midwife for a number of years.

“I developed a strong interest in midwifery in my third year of training.

“As part of that training we needed to deliver five babies – I’ve delivered a lot more since” she said.

Irene Gallagher enjoyed the shortest nursing career of the four, completing just six years, including two years as a staff nurse in Wellington.

The former nursing students all agree that “you are never not a nurse.”

Nursing is inside your soul, says Mrs McTaggart

“People ask you for advice because they know you’re a nurse and have the skills and knowledge.

“We all have caring natures and that is the reason we went into nursing in the first place,” she said.

There were eight student nurses in the February 1969 intake at Ashburton Hospital.

One dropped out, contact has been lost with another and two have died.

A memorial rose was planted in front of Ward 1 on Saturday by the four life-long nursing mates to remember the two who have passed.

The reunion gathering also included a tour of parts of the hospital.