Registered Nursing Training in the 70s - My Memoirs

I did my registered nurse training back in the 70s in the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow. At that time the Royal considered themselves to be ‘the main place’ to train high quality nurses. In other words they were a bit snobby and very old-fashioned. But in those days in order to become a registered nurse, you applied for the nursing college attached to your hospital of choice, and after a series of interviews, if your school grades were good enough you were accepted into a 3 year training course, much of which was spent on the wards.

Glam Rock

The ward sisters terrified me. They expected everyone to practically bob and cursey before them, and you would certainly get hauled over the coals if you dared to answer them back or question them in any way.

It was more like the 50s than the 70s.

This was the time of wedge platforms, frizzy hair, flared trousers and glam rock, with the big groups of the day being Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry, Slade, Elton John and the Bay City Rollers.

I was 17 and had just moved to the big city to commence training.

a staff nurse back in the good old days - note the cigarettes and ashtray at the nurse's station!
a staff nurse back in the good old days - note the cigarettes and ashtray at the nurse's station!

Nurse Uniforms

So it was with a heavy heart that we stood in line to get measured for our uniforms, off came the platforms and on went flat white lace shoes. Regulation white dress length was to the knees. No chance of cheating, the seamstresses measured us exactly to make sure the rules were adhered to.

Long hair tied back, no jewellery except wedding bands, fold up paper hats on our heads, with a thin blue line to indicate ‘student’.

The dresses were plain white linen, buttoning at the front to the waist but with 'hidden' buttons, two big deep front pockets and short sleeves, and we pinned our fob watches to our chests, just below the name badges thoughtfully provided for us by the hospital.

For warmth we were allowed to wear a mid-blue sort of jacket that was without pockets and made of a synthetic fibre that was easily washable. Not very warm but smart looking. They also provided us with heavy black serge capes that fastened at the back with red crossover straps at the front.

Warm but completely impractical to wear anywhere except in a hospital, perhaps while walking from wing to wing when it was necessary to go outside in the grounds.

At least the hospital paid for the uniforms, and also for their laundry. Each dress had your name and number on it, so that you always had a clean one to wear.

We only had to buy the shoes.

youthful me as a student nurse
youthful me as a student nurse

The Wards

We spent 8 weeks in the attached hospital nursing college first, learning the basics of human biology and a lot about hospital etiquette. They were big on etiquette. Then they allocated each of a ward and let us loose!

For the next three years or so, we spent 8 weeks in one type of ward before being shifted to another department so that we could learn all aspects of nursing, from medical to surgical to ENT, psychiatry, mental, - all the different departments, with a few weeks of theory in college in betweens times, where they had us sit exams and show them what we had learned on the wards.

bedpan (and yes, I remember the old metal ones!)
bedpan (and yes, I remember the old metal ones!)


As student nurses, they kept encouraging us to talk to the patients. They kept emphasising that if the ward work was done and everyone was comfortable, we should engage in idle chatter with the ones who never got visitors to help them feel less lonely.

That was the theory. In practice, if the ward sister caught you chatting to a patient you were immediately sent to clean out the sluice room, yet again. All the sisters seemed to think that their ward looked better if everyone was busy doing something, and it is hard to chat while you are busy doing something else entirely.

It is fine to chat while carrying out a procedure on the patient, whether that be bathing, feeding , changing dressings whatever, but at no other time because to stand and chat made you look as if you didn’t have anything else to do!

Cleaning and yet more Cleaning

When you’d just finished cleaning the sluice room for the 16th time that day and there was really nothing left to do in that area and you just had to go back into the ward; that was a time for straightening everyone’s beds up. The beds were already perfect, but no harm in doing it again – made you look busy.

The beds then had a crisp white bottom sheet over a plastic-covered mattress. No fitted sheets or anything so simple. Oh no they have to be made and folded in a certain way, and two nurses always made beds together.

Then came the top sheet which was laid on the bed ‘just so’, and the bottom tucked and folded with ‘hospital corners’. Then a top cover which was also folded in the exact same fashion as the sheet.

The wards were centrally heated, even in the height of summer, so feeling cold was never an issue.

So we’d straighten out the already perfect corners, all the time keeping one eye on the patients and the other out for sister.

Ward Routines

All hospital wards have a routine and these routines are almost always identical.

While the routine work and any extra procedures ordered by the doctors were carried out, it was all go, but then mealtimes would come, or visiting time would come, and everything would go quiet, and those were the hardest times to keep looking busy, even though the rest of the time you actually were really busy.

I came to love those flat white soft leather shoes. Being on my feet so much my feet would be aching at the end of an 8 hour shift. And the uniform dresses were perfect for carrying our procedures like lifting bed-ridden patients higher up the bed, so they could almost sit up and see what was going on. Shorter dresses would have shown our knickers!


We learned how to give injections by practising on an ORANGE!! I was terrified the first time I had to give an intra-muscular injection, but I couldn't let it show or the patient would never have permitted me to do it.

Do it I did, and they swore it never hurt a bit!

Over the years I gave hundreds if not not thousands of injections either IM or subcutaneously, but in those days nurses were not allowed to draw blood by needle, that was the doctor's job.

A note about the university nurses

It's all changed nowadays, probably to ease the workload of the doctors, plus nowadays the nurses are all university trained and going round taking blood is about all they are fit for. Honestly, I don't know if it's changed now (I hope it has), but when university nurses started appearing on the wards, they hung around the nurses' station looking important, usually with a stethoscope round their necks, and did absolutely nothing towards the ward routine.

They were there to 'delegate'. You're having a laugh, when a ward is busy it's all hands to the deck, and ward trained nurses like myself were natural workers.

You try cleaning out the sluice 22 times in one day, then find yourself something else to do on a ward and believe me there is always plenty, even if it's just changing the old flower water.

A note on flowers

Patients were always getting flowers, and they loved it. I mean who wouldn't? Next time you visit someone in hospital, bring them flowers, especially highly-scented ones that we can put by their bedsides so that the flower scent is what they wake up to instead of disinfectant.

In our hospital, it was considered unlucky to put white and red flowers together. I've no idea who thought that one up, but apparently it means 'death' in a hospital, so isn't done.

However, occasionally someone would bring in red and white flowers, like red roses with sprigs of gypsophila which looks beautiful of course, and we had to wait until the visitors left before hauling them out of their vase and separating them, just in case.

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Comments 20 comments

iskra1916 profile image

iskra1916 6 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

Excellent hub! Very interesting!

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks, I might have to write a bit more about my training in those days. There are a lot of aspects to look at.

iskra1916 profile image

iskra1916 6 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

I am sure you have seen some strange things in a hospital.

In those days Matron would have ruled the wards with a rod of iron.

A friend of mine had to leave nursing as he developed a fondness for MST's & DHC from the trolley ;)

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

MSTs and DHCs?? I'm not familiar with the terminology but I guess you mean some drugs from the drugs trolley. Lemme guess DHC-dihydrocodeine? MST- Morphine Sulphate?

There were controlled drugs, and the DDAs (Dangerous Drugs Act) were safely locked at all times, and counted twice daily to ensure none went missing.

Tammy Lochmann profile image

Tammy Lochmann 6 years ago

I have a diploma and I was pretty much trained in hospital too. It was fun and I think I learned more. Nurses that come out now don't have a clue how to manage their time to complete all nursing care and paper work during the day. ..I hope this doesn't offend anyone but it's true. Thanks for sharing I enjoyed reading.

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks for dropping by and commenting Tammy. Its interesting that uni trained nurses are still the same. They should have had hands-on training - they'd have been better trained for the job they are doing.

profile image

rahuljain 6 years ago

I liked your post here. Very interesting hub thanks for sharing your memories. Now the time is different now every body can become a nurse in a single click on online web sites like

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

I read the link and that is to be a certified nursing assistant! NOt quite the same thing, but along the same lines :)

Thea Ray 6 years ago

My friends who are taking up nursing nowadays practice on each other for their injections. Ouch! I guess it makes sense, but I think practicing on an orange is a lot less painful. :)

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

OMG there is no way I would have allowed my colleagues to practice on me! Oranges are ideal - the skin and thickness of an orange are similar to human skin (or so we were told). Tell them to buy buy a couple of oranges - they'll be expert in no time at all :)

unicorn50.1959 profile image

unicorn50.1959 6 years ago from Wales

Excellent hub - I was trained the 'old way' myself and feel the changes made have not been for the benefit of the patients.I'm all for education and training but what has happened to the hands-on nurses?

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK Author

Gone out the window. And us older nurses are now more likely to be patients!

But hey...we can still wave the flag for old way...because we know the system. Tell those young nurses to get off their backsides and help us! We'll make brilliant 'difficult patients'!

Tara Harkins 6 years ago

Thank you for your hub. It helped me source some material for a presentation I am working on about the history of nursing.

Nurse Practitioner Salary 5 years ago

Great hub. The career has definitely evolved, but it is still very rewarding.

elle 5 years ago

Loved this. I also trained 1976 @ GRI. I know exactly what you are saying. I must say, I am very proud to have trained within this very strict establishment.

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

It was exactly like I described though, wasn't it? And do you remember some of the ward sisters used to insist all the bed wheels faced in the same direction too? And you'd get Hell if just one was out of line? Those were the days, eh?

pearl 5 years ago

I was a pupil nurse in 70's and we did double the work of students.The danger and safety level was high as we were doing things we were not trained for.A few years back i worked with a university student about to qualify and she did not know how to do injections.The respect for ward managers has gone as it is often all girls together and more socialising out of work hours.

Fiona 5 years ago

Thank you SO much for sharing - it made me laugh - I trained at the GRI in '78 - every thing you said was 'spot on' - oh the memories!!Once you've had that 'good' training it never leaves you!!

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

@Pearl and Fiona, thanks for commenting girls :) I'm glad my memory serves me correctly - it really was a time of discipline we never knew existed up till then! Reading over this hub above, I see I forgot to mention that some ward sisters insisted all the the bed wheels point in the same direction, so that was another thing that kept us busy, checking all the bed wheels all the time! Happy days! I hope university trained nurses have improved because soon that will be all that is left. As an aside, I was an inpatient in a Spanish hospital for a while. The nurses here are excellent at carrying out their procedures (university trained) but hopeless at what we would have called basic nursing. In the time I was there I could not sit up and so could not actually reach the food they brought me at mealtimes, nor cut it up, and there was no help offered. I think only once or twice in a two-week period did someone actually assist me to eat - the rest of the time they simply removed my uneaten food tray. I lost a ton - got to look on the bright side! In our day, nurses took part in total care of the patient.

peterhark69 profile image

peterhark69 5 years ago from Canada

Very nice story you got here. Having nurses in our family, they have really said that the trainings and education of nurses beck in the 70's have changed a lot but still there are still some areas that weren't changed. Thanks for sharing this story.

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