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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences


page 9


As one who, for nearly forty years, has watched with sympathetic eye the progress of training of nurses in our hospitals, I am privileged to write a foreword to this book.

No nurse's education can be considered complete without a knowledge of the history of nursing, more especially of nursing in her own country. It is fortunate for our nurses that the history of nursing in New Zealand has been undertaken by one who has done so much to improve the training and raise the standard of nursing as well as the status of the nurse. Even when I commenced practice here, nurses, not far removed from the “Sairey Gamp” type, were quite common: these nurses were innocent of anti-septics and sometimes even ignored ordinary cleanliness. It is not many years since there was an insufficient supply of trained registered nurses.

New Zealand has been fortunate with its Hospitals Department (later merged into the Health Department) and its departmental heads. First came Dr. Grabham, followed by Dr. Macgregor, a big Scotsman with a large head and a large brain: he gave the department a wonderful start, with the strong support of Richard Seddon. In the choice of Mrs. Grace Neill as his assistant, he showed wisdom and foresight. She was a woman of strong character and personality, combined with breadth of vision. It was she who laid the firm foundation on which was based the nurses' training. Miss Hester Maclean was a worthy successor and carried on the good work.

We hear much of the “born nurse,” but I doubt if there is any such person. What is born in a woman is the page 10 maternal instinct, in some more than in others: it is this instinct that comes into play in nursing.

Of many a woman it may be said that she is “kind, kind, gentle, and true,” but unless training and experience are added, no woman could ever meet the requirements of modern nursing and make a good nurse. It is often asked what constitutes a good nurse. A woman well endowed with intelligence and common sense, with abundance of the milk of human kindness, alert in mind and body, with some sense of humour, and well trained in nursing, should be a good nurse. Her motto would surely be, “Do as you would be done by.” Other things being equal, an educated woman has a better chance of becoming a good nurse than an uneducated one. The standard of education a girl should attain, before entering a hospital to train as a nurse has long been a point of dispute. It seems to me a mistake to take any girl to train unless she has had at least two years at a secondary school. The nurse's curriculum has been gradually extended and now includes a considerable amount of medicine and surgery, out I do not agree with those who consider that this has gone too far. For such knowledge enables them to take a more intelligent interest in their cases and be of more assistance to the patient as well as to the doctor. Nurses are far past the stage attained by the soldiers of whom it was written: “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” I have heard it stated that no nurse's (and for that matter no doctor's) training is complete until she has had an illness herself. Far be it for me to suggest such an addition to the curriculum.

Besides her departmental work, Miss Hester Maclean has been a good friend to our nurses in many ways. She did a big thing for them when, single-handed, she started page 11 the Nurses' Journal (Kai Tiaki), a journal of considerable merit. It has been a bond of union amongst the nurses throughout New Zealand and has kept them abreast of the doings in the nursing world. It is a constant source of interest, providing not only news, but also instruction. One wonders, now, why a nursing journal was not started sooner. This was a labour of love, for the profit made was devoted to the Nurses' Memorial Fund. It must be remembered, too, that this work was added to her already busy life in the Health Department.

Beloved and respected by the nurses, it was fortunate for Miss Maclean, that after a period of “toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing” before she retired from her departmental duties, she had the satisfaction of knowing that our nurses had reached a standard of training that compared favourably with that of any other country. Moreover, she had already had the opportunity of seeing for herself that New Zealand trained nurses made good in the Great War and were second to none in the British Empire.

Wm. Young.