It was the fall of 1968. I entered “nursing training”. It is hard to believe that this is the way nurses got their education, but it was one of three ways in 1968 that we gained our Registered Nurse status. One could get your degree and go to University or take a 3 year course through a hospital based program or 2 years at a community college. The community college program was fairly new, so my father encouraged me to do the University route or the hospital based program. He had done some ” looking into” this and found that job opportunities were improved with the 3 year program.
We were ” trained” rather than educated. Classroom learning was certainly a large part of our schooling but practice, practice, practice was the mantra that turned out efficient nursing students ready to fully integrate into the workplace.
My parents drove me up to Edmonton, and escorted me to the registration process and my new home. “Residence ( or Res )” was my home for the next three years. A six story tall building joined to the hospital by a “tunnel”- housing 500 women who all were “in training” to be nurses. I was one of the “fifth floor” girls but little did I know what this really meant.
My memories of that first day are clear – moving into my very small residence room – a bed, a counter and a sink. My trunk ( mandatory for a nursing student in residence ) arrived and I unpacked all my belongings, making it look a bit like home. After saying goodbye to my parents, I sat in my room petrified of what would come next. Each student is assigned a “big sister” to help them adjust, so shortly after, my big sister came and saved me from a bucket full of tears. A group of second year students and their “little sisters” went for supper at the cafeteria and gathered for a welcome party. I found friends !
I was shy and under confident so some of my first month was frightening and lonely. The living accommodations and a community lounge helped a lot and soon I found good friends and learned that I could initiate the ” dinner ” brigade to the cafeteria.
Food was not great but we got used to it. On liver and onions day, we all gathered in a community kitchen and ate Kraft Dinner and toast and Cheese Whiz. Well, actually we gathered in that kitchen a lot and ate a lot of Cheese Whiz !! We all came out 3 years later a little heavier on the scale.
Being a student nurse was an experience that cannot be forgotten. We were thrown in right away and asked to do things way out of my comfort zone. I remember my first patient an Italian patient with limited English that I was asked to ” chat with ” on our first day on the “wards”. I escaped and hid in a tub room after a few minutes of terror. Another student and I dumped the basin on our first ” bed bath ” patient. ( no lab for those things for us ). Luckily she was mobile and helped us clean up her bed ! Good thing I was still determined to be a nurse and had my social circle in the ” lounge ” at the end of our hallway to help me through.
By second year we were put into ‘ in charge’ situations. Does that scare you to think that a second year student was in charge of a ward ? Well probably not as much as it scared me. My first set of night shifts in charge on a medical ward in my second year, I had a patient die every night of 6 shifts. A fellow student helped me to see that death, being a part of life, was not something to fear. This was something I needed to learn.
By third year we were ready to take on the world, having being in many experiences and practiced many procedures many times. I spent a month analyzing my own psyche while trying to help my psychiatric patients in the Alberta Hospital. We all decided we were in need of mental health counselling. I spent two months in the Operating Room, observing, assisting and seeing simple and complicated surgeries. The closest I came to fainting was during a toenail extraction. I spent 2 months in Obstetrics, learning how to support a new mom and a nurses role in the delivery room. I spent 2 months in Intensive Care, a hierarchy of head nurses and doctors that was a challenge in itself. That plus urology, eye service, general medicine and several different types of post surgery wards. All taught me much and learning I would use later in my career.
Instructors could be kind and supportive or ready to “strengthen the student experience”. Many days I wanted to quit, but then I remembered my life long dream. Many an evaluation told me to be less quiet and shy but I was buoyed up by a kind instructor who said that people wanted a quiet nurse too, and to be secure in who I was. I won’t forget that one !
Highlights – delivering a baby who couldn’t wait for me to fetch a “real nurse” to help out, having my Clinic shoe pinned down by a scalpel when I didn’t hand the surgeon the right instrument, partying and being raided by the Interns late at night, having a water fight and running into the school director who came up from her room downstairs to see what the commotion was, teaming up with great student nurses to continue our “rotation”, meeting the man who eventually would become my husband at a rival school’s dance, friendships developed in the hallway and the lounge while we solved the world’s problems and laughed about things only nurses could laugh about. It was a great three years.
I sometimes laugh and say I took the ” slave” training but I certainly don’t regret my choice of school or the three year program. It turned an 17 yr old timid girl into a confident and knowledgeable Registered Nurse. It shaped many of my ways of thinking and formed some great friendships, but most of all, it made me the nurse I am today -40 some years later.
” The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesses him that gives and him that takes. – Unknown