Leading nurse steered hospital through major changes

Margaret Cooper Booth AM

Margaret was born in Sydney, the eldest of three children of Gwenfra and John Cooper Booth, a medical practitioner.

When Margaret left school, WWII had not yet ended and women were required in the workforce. She had a choice of two jobs – working in the Lindfield Laundry or entering nursing. As her father was a doctor it was not surprising that she chose nursing.

In 1944 she began a four-year training course at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. During this period the new miracle drug, penicillin, came into use. She completed her midwifery training at Royal North Shore Hospital and this marked the commencement of a long and successful career there.

In 1952 she completed a Diploma in Ward Administration at the College of Nursing, Melbourne, returning to RNSH the following year to take charge of the Men’s Medical Ward. A Nightingale Scholarship enabled her to travel to London in 1958 and complete a Diploma in Nursing Adminis-tration at the Royal College of Nursing.

On her return to RNSH she became Assistant Matron until being appointed Deputy Matron in 1962. In this role she worked closely with Matron Ruth McClelland. They formed an excellent partnership and became lifelong friends.

Over the next two decades Margaret played a major role in introducing significant changes that shaped nursing practice and education. Team nursing was introduced; training was reduced to three years; male nurses were employed; a pilot program to integrate hospital training and a university education was trialled and trainee nurses were no longer required to live in hospital residences.

At the same time nurse managers faced difficulties maintaining patient services during several periods of industrial unrest. Eventually better pay and conditions were achieved under a 38-hour week with rostered days off. Developments in medical and surgical techniques and radical changes in the delivery of health services altered the role and skills required of all nursing personnel. It was at this time that the title of Matron was changed to Director of Nursing.

In 1981, in the midst of this new and challenging environment, Margaret was appointed Director of Nursing. As a manager, she was firm and resolute and demanded a high standard. However any staff member who came to her with a request for help – whether work-related or of a personal nature – would be treated sympathetically. At all times she maintained a personal interest in her staff and enjoyed hearing about and meeting their families on special occasions.

Seeking a solution to a severe shortage of nurses, Margaret travelled to the United Kingdom in 1985. The subsequent recruitment campaign resulted in 100 nurses joining RNSH.

Margaret was a Fellow of the NSW College of Nursing, Fellow of the College of Nursing Australia, Member of the Institute of Nursing Administrators NSW and ACT, Member of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation (NSW Branch). She also sat on the external advisory committee of Cumberland College of Health Sciences and the Sydney Institute of Technology. In 1986, a year before her retirement, Margaret was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of her outstanding contribution to nursing.

Margaret’s funeral was held in Orange in April. Members of the Graduate Nurses’ Association held a memorial service at the hospital chapel on 30 June to acknowledge her significant contribution to the hospital over many years.

Margaret is survived by her sister Joan and brother Peter and his family.
Una Sullivan,RNSH Graduate Nurses Association