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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.