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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter LIV. — Dental Nursing Scheme

page 249

Chapter LIV.
Dental Nursing Scheme.

In 1921, the Director of Dental Services of the New Zealand Forces evolved a scheme for dealing with the teeth of children. The scheme was to train girls in the are of the first teeth—the scheme was brought up by tie Director, Colonel Hunter, before the Nurses' Association at Council meetings, in Dunedin and Wellington. It vas desired to enlist the co-operation and help of nurses, and in regard to appointments, preference was promised to be given to trained nurses. At Dunedin the Council was not in favour of the scheme, considering that there would be no nursing proper, and that there would also be no proper dental qualification.

In Wellington, it was approved with reservations, and with a proviso that the course of the trained nurse should be much shorter than that of the untrained pupils, which was to be two years.

As a matter of fact, at that time there was rather a shortage of nurses in the Dominion, and every trained nurse was wanted for her own work. I felt, and so expressed myself in the journal that as no proposal was nude to give any concession in point of time or any advantage in payment above what was offered to untrained women, that the nurses should uphold the honour of their profession and refuse to accept conditions which did not recognise their status as professional women. For young nurses at least, to abandon the work of actual nursing, so very important for the whole public in the alleviating of suffering, would be a step which would tend to lower the page 250 estimation in which they have always been held. No comparison could be made in the interest of the two classes of work. The dental care, which could almost equally well be done by girls with two years' training, would be a waste of economic value and a depreciation of their own qualifications if undertaken by trained nurses.

The Dental Association was also opposed to the movement, and the employment of women not qualified as dentists for the simple treatments they were to carry out, was strenuously opposed.

Those in favour of the plan contend that women would do much more good in this work than men. Children are much more easily managed by women.

This scheme at the time it was inaugurated, cane under the Education Department and only later, was transferred to the Health Department. Unfortunately the Education Department had called the young women who were trained as dental workers, “Nurse,” and when it came under our department, it was too late to change, as I wished, to “dental assistant.” The trained nurses never took up this work with any enthusiasm; I remember only one qualified nurse taking the course.

At the time of writing these recollections, there is no doubt that where, in the strenuous time, so many are oat of employment, some nurses may regret that the conditions offered then were not more attractive, and more consistent with their professional qualifications. The whole scheme was one of the Welfare projects of the paternal Government of New Zealand. The clinics gave free treatment, and no doubt were taken advantage of by many who could afford to pay. Now that the Government has had to curtail some of its services, a fee is to be charged to those who can pay, and the clinics started in many towns are supposed to be self-supporting.