Fifty three years ago today I started my Nursing career!

I arrived in Birmingham not knowing a soul. I had only visited the city once before, about 2 years earlier when I went for my day-long interview. I must have made the right impression on the formidable panel of interviewers (the Matrons from the three main hospitals in the group and the senior tutors from the nursing schools) because they had written and offered me a place in the January 1958 school. They had explained to me that they were starting a new scheme of training which would incorporate the training schools into one which would become the Queen Elizabeth School of Nursing and we would gain experience from all the hospitals with their different specialities.

The PTS (preliminary training school) was housed in two large houses in a quiet road in the suburbs. I was in Priorsfield and found that I was in a six bedded room with a lino floor and minimally furnished. I was the second to arrive, the first was a very pretty Turkish Cypriot girl and during the afternoon we were joined by two girls from the West Midlands, one form Yorkshire and one from Leicestershire. The other rooms filled up with girls from all over the UK. Quite a number were from the West Midlands and I found the accents quite difficult to understand at first.

We had tea at 4 pm and then went to the school room where we found that there were 76 of us—75 females and 1 male! In those days it was very much a female dominated profession. Most of us were straight from school and all were unmarried. The tutors spent the first half hour telling us how fortunate we were to be there and that a high standard of behaviour was expected from us and that the three months we would spend in the school was a probationary period for us and that if we did not match up to their standards then our training would be terminated! They then went on to tell us how our time would be organised in the next 12 weeks.

The day started with breakfast at 7.30, prayers at 7.55, cleaning from 8-8.30am (gasps of horror from a few of the “posher” students), to whom it was explained that we couldn’t expect to organise cleaning on the ward if we had not done any ourselves, (it also cut the cost of running the nurses home :)) Lectures 9am-1pm, one hour for lunch and then practical lectures in basic nursing or visits, eg waterworks and sewage works,until 5pm when we would be free to go out or write up notes etc. The door was locked at 10 pm and lights out at 10.30pm. This “lights out” was rigidly enforced by the house warden, who I think must have been an air raid warden in her younger days so practised was she in calling, “Put that light out!”

This was our programme Monday to Friday. Saturday 1pm- Sunday 10pm we were free to go home or relax in the home. We also had an extension to the day by being allowed out until10.30pm!

Most of us survived the three months (one left after two weeks  because” it was nothing like the TV shows”) and another one left at the end of the three months to get married and we were not allowed to get married during our training.

The strictness of the school prepared us for the discipline of the hospital which was run on military lines. We complained (to each other) about this, but it did mean that the hospital ran smoothly and everyone knew what was expected of them.

I don’t think I would like to be nursing now. When I was training Matron was in charge, she organised the staffing levels and policies of the hospital, no faceless overpaid bureacrats, and she or her deputy visited every ward every day. The different disciplines, medical,radiography,physios,pharmacy etc  respected and worked together as a team. From what I read now they are all set against one another and fighting one another for funding.

Maybe because they remembered the time before the NHS, most patients were grateful and co-operative as were their relatives. Relatives only rang with enquiries at set times unless a patient was gravely ill and Sister was available after visiting hours to answer their queries in person. Now it seems to be a constant battle between “them” and “us”, each side feeling aggrieved.

The hospitals were run as economically as possible (most of the Sisters and Matrons had trained when hospitals relied on public subscription and patient contribution so were used to making every penny work.) but there were no bureaucrats telling the Sisters how to run their wards.

The wards were cleaned by dedicated ward maids and orderlies, who took great pride in “their” ward. Now that accountants run hospitals the cleaning is contracted out to private firms who tend to cut costs by cutting cleaning times and the cleaning may be done by people who have no particular interest or pride in the work and the there is no one taking any reponsibility for it.

Meals were served by Sister and handed out by the nurses and orderlies and any lack of appetite was reported back to Sister so no one starved! Now the food is sent up ready plated and no one notices if someone is not eating and so we get reports of malnutrition in the media!

During my training we had to work long hours for very little pay and study hard, but I made many friends, grew up, gained confidence and, most importantly, got a lot of satisfaction from the job. We felt valued and respected, something which, from what I read, is lacking now. We also felt secure in the backing we had from the sisters and Matron again this seems to be lacking today.

I am glad that I trained 53 years ago.:)

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