Nursing 50 years and beyond

The Lamp celebrates three nurses who have achieved a major milestone – a half-century in the profession and as members of the NSWNA – and they are still going strong.

Ruth Turton

It was 9 November 1959 when 16-year-old Ruth Turton started work at St George Hospital in Kogarah. ‘In those days you left school and did the preliminary training school for six weeks then you were on the wards,’ she told The Lamp. ‘We had to train for four years. The first year you did all the bad jobs like the pan rooms, cleaning up and doing fluids – we’d make the high-protein milkshakes for patients and squeezed the oranges – all the things they hire a dietitian for now. By the second year, they let you give out a few drugs and do dressings.’

Having started out in general nursing, Ruth became a midwife for the next 41 years, including a stint as a CNC in lactation. She remained at St George until 2000. During this time she got married and had children. ‘The first one came in 1971 and I went on night duty because it was the easiest way with kids. Your husband worked during the day and looked after them at night,’ she said. ‘The girls I met at that time are still longstanding friends; we formed a bond.’

When asked about the changes she’s seen in the profession over the past five decades, Ruth – who has worked in the short-stay surgical unit at Lismore Base Hospital for the past three years – said: ‘The worst thing we have now is paperwork and computers. The things that were supposed to make it easier for us have made it harder. It’s increased our workload a hundred fold. We are sitting at desks instead of being out with patients. I spend most of my time answering phones and admitting patients.’

Talking of technology, The Lamp asked Ruth’s colleagues to sit her in front of the nursing super-blog Nurse Uncut to gauge her opinion of it. ‘I am wondering when nurses have the time to sit down and write all that stuff,’ she chuckles. ‘If it had been around in my day, there would have been a lot of whingeing about night duty. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s nurses’ attitudes to night duty. They never like it unless they choose to do it.’

Ruth said her favourite period was 1959 to 1963. ‘The four years of my training was the best period of my life. We all had to live in the nursing home so we were all friends, had a lot of fun and broke a lot of rules.’

It was during this time that one of many amusing incidents happened.

‘It was in my second year training and we had this senior nurse, who must have been 6’4 and really thin,’ Ruth recalls.

‘We used to be in the men’s public ward and in those days it was all prostrate troubles. We used to tie the [men’s genitalia] up with Penrose tubing into big bottles and the men would go slightly crazy. They used to try to get out of the hospital.

‘One night this old bloke got out and he had the Penrose tubing flying everywhere, no top on and he ran up to the railway station – they always used to head for the railway station – and this nurse went after him. She did a flying tackle on him, got him around the legs, and he just stood there and stepped out of his pyjama pants and kept running! He got to the train station before the police picked him up. There was so much fun over the years but that sticks in my mind.’

It’s obvious that Ruth, now 67, loves this profession – so much so that retirement wasn’t for her. ‘I love the company, the camaraderie,’ she said. ‘I like being with all the young girls and acting the goat! I like looking after people.’

If you’re wondering how she has the energy to still work full time, Ruth stays fit and healthy by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as being as active as she can.

When asked what advice she has for fellow nurses, or those wishing to train as a nurse, she said: ‘You need a sense of humour, common sense and to be a good listener.’

She also recommends everyone joins the Union. ‘I’ve been a member since I started as a nurse,’ she said. ‘You’ve got to, especially today with all the legal problems. Unless we speak as one we are never going to get anywhere.’

Pauline Fitzpatrick

Pauline Fitzpatrick née Price, known to her colleagues as ‘Fitzy’, commenced nursing on 10 December 1959 at Young District Hospital, where she trained and worked until commencing her midwifery training at the Mater Hospital, Sydney, in 1964.

Pauline began working as a midwife at Mudgee District Hospital in 1970, where her experience and passion for lifelong learning have earned her the deep respect of her peers, and her ‘larrikin ways’ have won her the affection of all who know her.

Pauline has been known to dress up in a Santa suit at Christmas time, and she often jokes that she was nursing when many of her colleagues were born. She might have even delivered them. Well done, Pauline, on an amazing and ongoing career!

Vivienne Crockwood

Vivienne began her nursing career at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on 21 February 1960. As well as her work as a nurse, Vivienne and her husband Samuel Beggs temporarily cared for children who were abused and neglected. In the early 1980s, they began caring for Cambodian refugees, and in 1982, they became foster parents to an abandoned 11-year-old refugee child.

Vivienne worked at Liverpool Hospital in many senior nursing roles, and was appointed as Acting Co-Director of the Division of Women’s and Children’s Health in 2004. In 2008, she was appointed as the Area Clinical Manager for Paediatric Services in SSWAHS, the position that she currently holds.

Vivienne says she is not ready to give up and ‘retire’ yet, as she still has a passion for the health and wellbeing of women and children, especially the disadvantaged, both globally and, in particular, in Sydney South West.