nursing comparisons

Nursing comparisons between today and the olden days, when nurses trained in an apprenticeship system, make me laugh. Recently some nurses exchanged ideas about this topic on Facebook.

I was seventeen years old when I began to train as a nurse in 1955. Then, nurses in Western Australia became indentured to the Health Department. Actually, our fathers signed the papers that bound us for the next three years. Most people went straight from school to the hospitals to train. They were well under the legal age to enter into contracts when they started.

Of course, most of us were women. Nursing, like teaching, was known to be ‘women’s work’. Our hard, often menial work provided hospitals with cheap labour.

Different eras

We worked shift-work, forty-eight hours a week. We attended lectures, studied and did exams in our off-duty hours. I wrote about this system in a post, Nursing sixty years ago. We received a Certificate of Completion at the end of three years. That enabled us to register and work as nurses.

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s people have enrolled in Australian university nursing degrees or Technical and Further Education courses. Like other students, they study through lectures and tutorials. Their courses also include practicums in health care settings. At the end, they receive the professional qualifications, Bachelor of Science (Nursing) Degrees or Diplomas of Nursing.

Like other professionals, they acquire a massive debt which must be paid over the course of their working lives.

Facebook activity

The Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, achieved popularity through his management of the Covid-19 pandemic especially during 2020. A Facebook page under his name appears regularly, often twice a day. In this communication, he updates items of interest and provides news items of general interest.

An acount of the number of new and active cases of the coronavirus and the number of vaccinations administered appear daily. New cases almost always occur in hotels where people returning to Western Australia must quarantine for fourteen days.

‘Shortage of hospital beds’

A recent apparent shortage of beds in the health care system, as well as the ‘ramping’ of ambulances, creates problems from time to time. This has been reported in the local media which quotes a number of causes.

The Premier responded with the announcement that 600 new nurses will employed over the next two years. His response became the subject of a Facebook post. It received 4.1k likes and 1.4k comments including those which were negative.

Many people failed to recognise that more staff equates to the availability of more beds being open to accept patients.

Older nurses commented that nurses didn’t need a university education and the government could revert to the system of people working while they trained to register as nurses. This would mean a much larger and cheaper workforce. I commented about professional training and the apprenticeship system. Some of my colleagues responded angrily.

It seemed they’d enjoyed their nursing training and thought olden-day nurses provided better care than modern nurses.

Modern nurses don’t know how to provide comfort and care,’ one commented. ‘What they learn at university is often irrelevant.’

Nursing comparisons

I recently witnessed a Registered Nurse as she administered an intravenous iron infusion in a home. That image assured me that nurses these days are highly competent technical workers as well as carers.

Basic nursing courses at university include chemistry, psychology, anatomy, pharmacology, sociology and physiology. Nurses graduate with professional skills and standing.

They proceed to work in health care fields in graduate positions, and continue to learn their roles. With further study they can specialise in a chosen field, research, teach and continue to make a difference.

I withdrew from further comments on Facebook because I realised that to make nursing comparisons between the products of the two eras was nonsense. No longer do nurses stand with their hands behind their backs in menial subservience to other health professionals.


4 replies on “Nursing comparisons now and 1955”

  1. The argument to go back to that system just to provide a cheap workforce is a nonsense and demeans nursing. I too trained under the old system but later than you I then converted to degree later. I don’t want to debate the value of either system, but nursing can only go forward, not backwards. However additional nurses. May not mean more beds.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Ann. Nursing is an important profession, one I later enjoyed after a dismal start. I added a Degree in Social Science, and that opened up all sorts of new directions. I agree that additional nurses may not mean more beds. But until there are adequate numbers of staff of all kinds, the wards that are closed in our hospitals cannot be opened, so more nurses would be a good start.

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