{Display Highlights the Changing Role of Nursing Staff} {Nurses Adapt to Demands of Modern Day Society}

The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia), May 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

{Display Highlights the Changing Role of Nursing Staff} {Nurses Adapt to Demands of Modern Day Society}


A NURSE was a very different creature back in 1859 when the Toowoomba Hospital was a cottage treating four patients on the site of the current Irish Club.

Compared to the new-age nurse of 2009, she - almost certainly "she"- was untrained, subservient, and ill-equipped to offer their patients much beyond comfort and compassion.

Devotion they had in bucket loads: these girls saw nursing as a worthy and valuable vocation. But how surprised would they be to see the metamorphis their profession has undergone in the past 150 years.

It is a change which Judy March, executive director of nursing and midwifery services at Toowoomba Hospital is documenting in a display called "Nurses at work now-.and nurses at work then" as part of the International Nurses Day celebrations this month.

"Nurses today are highly educated, have university qualifications, and are skilled technicians and clinicians," she says.

"The big difference between nurses now and then is the level of knowledge, in things such as diagnoses and pharmacy. No longer do the doctors simply do the medical work and nurses carry out the orders."

Although the Toowoomba Hospital has been functioning since 1959 (first in Russell Street, then at the site of the South State School, and finally in its current location), nurses have only been trained there since 1889.

Prior to that, nursing care was ad hoc, often carried out by the wives of doctors, or young girls without official training.

Helen "Ella" Tolmie was the first nurse trainee, and later went on to become the hospital's first Matron in 1897.

"The old photos from this time show the nurses in caps and aprons - very functional uniforms to protect their clothes and hair," Judy says.

"It is very much in the style of Florence Nightingale.

"Even when I started nursing in the 1960s, we wore caps and aprons. Our roles were still fairly similar as well - we showered patients, cleaned wards, made beds, washed floors, even cooked.

"Nursing means nourishing, and that's what we did."

One of the gems of Judy's display is a stack of old records which list in gorgeous handwriting things such as every baby born at the hospital, or every nurse to have trained there.

There are also lecture notes dating back to 1942, outlining the ethics of nursing.

"It says here that the qualities of a nurse are to be truthful, obedient, clean and tidy, methodical, observant, tactful, punctual, courteous and silent," Judy says with a laugh. …

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