When we had been at the PTS (preliminary training school) for eight weeks, and had learned the basic bedside nursing techniques, we were taken to the hospital for some ward experience.

When we arrived at the hospital we were sent in twos or threes to the wards. The first sister I met gave me a very rosy picture of how sisters were!  She was a large, bosomy, jolly lady. It was rumoured that she and the two consultants for her ward had all been in the Royal Navy together. I could believe this as they had a rather bawdy sense of humour. It was a busy ward, but efficiently run. The sister was good natured but no “pushover”.  If you did your job to the best of your ability she was sweetness and light, but try to cut corners and the whole hospital would hear her bellow!  She probably sensed our nervousness because she was very kind to us.

She paired us off with either a staff nurse or third year so that we were well supervised  and when the consultant arrived with his entourage of housemen, students and registrars she sent us round too to observe. I thoroughly enjoyed my first morning on the wards.

The sisters then were in complete charge of the wards and were very much in evidence. They managed the nurses and domestic staff, were available for patients’  relatives at visiting time, ordered provisions,drugs, laundry etc. They also did the drug rounds and served the meals from huge heated trolleysand made sure that the student nurses were taught and supervised.

We visited her ward once a week for the three following weeks and then we were given a week off before we started at the hospital full time.

When we started full time I got a rude awakening because I was put on a different ward and the sister there was the complete opposite. She was a cold  hearted woman who appeared to dislike student nurses on sight. It was a very busy medical ward, but she made it even harder work than it needed to be. Most of the patients were bedridden, several were incontinent, several needed feeding  and there were i.v. drips and oxygen tents dotted around the ward. She added to our work load by putting everyone on four hourly temperature charts and water balance charts whether they needed it or not. She was quite unreasonable and listened to no excuses. If the night staff didn’t keep  specimens, it was our fault. If the laundry didn’t send back all the laundry, it was our fault. In fact if anything was wrong ,it was our fault!

 It was completely different on her days off when the staff nurses were in charge, the ward was more efficiently run, the mood lightened and even the patients seemed more relaxed. I was tempted to  give up nursing altogether, but my parents encouraged me to wait until I changed wards at the end of three months before I took such a drastic step. They were quite right it was never as bad as that again in my general training and by the time I had a similar sister when I did midwifery, I had hardened up somewhat and coped with it.

Most of the sisters I worked with came somewhere in between the two extremes. I didn’t mind them being strict (well, not much:)) if they were fair.

I think our sanity was saved by us living in the nurses’  homes. We used to meet up with our friends when we came off duty and, over a pot of tea, would air our grievances and comfort one another when we were in trouble. We were all single so had no domestic worries and no household bills to worry about.