What Motivated you to become who you are?

28 Apr

My first motivation came when I was about seven years old. I’d had to wear glasses since I was five for a squint and had many visits to the eye hospital to try to rectify it. But it was decided an operation was necessary. It was after the operation when they took the bandages off that I saw the nursing sister with her pretty frilly hat on. I said “I want one of those hats.” That was my motivation to become a nurse.

St John Ambulance Cadet

In order to achieve this I took several steps to prepare myself. The first was to join St John Ambulance as a cadet when I was fourteen. This is when I learnt first aid and studied for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and then met him when I was chosen to be in a guard of honour for him. He was so friendly and relaxed talking to us young people. I think it was part of the award scheme that encouraged me to assist in a care home, (the Philip Godley Lodge in Didsbury, Manchester – which I think is still open) on Saturdays. In the 1960’s we we allowed to take a Saturday job from the age of 14 years. Many young people delivered newspapers in the towns and cities.

QARANC Uniform

I wanted to start my nursing career as soon as possible but could not start until I reached 16 years as a cadet nurse in a hospital. So when I left school at 15, I went to work as a shop assistant at Boots the chemist in the hope that this would teach me how to deal with members of the public. It did and I enjoyed it but started work as a cadet nurse as soon as I reached 16. My uniform was yellow and my objective was to wear a blue uniform signifying seniority. Time seems so slow when you’re a teenager so when many of my friends joined the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Corps, QARNNC, I decided to join with them. However having succeeded in being accepted to join the navy I was told there was a two year waiting list. I was too impatient and joined the QARANC (the army) instead. (They wore frilly hats too). I was accepted providing I could gain 7 lbs in weight. I was too thin! I did and was sworn in to join at age 17 and a half. I learnt to march, salute and the history of the QARANC. This was basic training and nothing to do with nursing! After completing nine weeks of this I was told that I’d have to do another nine weeks because my birthday was the day after the end of the training and I wouldn’t have reached my eighteenth birthday. I gave up and left at this point. I realised that maybe this life was too regimented for me.

My room

In the sixties and seventies there were three levels of nurses; state registered, state enrolled and auxiliaries. The state registered or SRN was able to progress to become a sister or matron and in training were called student nurses but a state enrolled nurse, SEN stayed permanently at that level and while in training was called a pupil nurse. She (generally females) was a practical nurse whereas the SRN did the drug and doctors’ rounds and management duties. The auxiliary was completely untrained in nursing duties and helped with cleaning and feeding mostly. I think you can guess which training I applied for next. I became a student nurse at Paddington General hospital in London. But this was not plain sailing either. You needed, I think it was three O levels (school qualifications) for SRN training but I left school before taking the exams. The alternative was to sit an entrance exam which was more of an intelligence test. With my results I was able to enter SRN training. In that era you weren’t classified as adult until you reached 21 so you had to live in the nurses’ home for the first year. It was a three year course whereas the SEN was a two year course.

Student Nurses

Remember, I was motivated by a frilly hat. Only nursing sisters wore the frilly hats so I had some work to do. I also liked the blue uniform and when I was a cadet the uniform was yellow but the students wore blue so I was looking forward to wearing a pale blue colour. This was not to be, because each hospital chose what colour they wanted for nurses in training and the colour for student nurses at Paddington General hospital was ….. yellow!

Eventually after transferring training to Manchester and five years later I took my final exams. Passed the practical exam but failed the written. Retook the written exam but failed again so I had to decide if I wanted to retake it for the third and final time or go and do something else. So I went off to do something else with the intention of returning to retake the exam when I felt more confident. However this was not possible because I had completed my training but I was not qualified as an SRN so the matron told me I could not return. Not to be defeated I contacted the General Nursing Council who oversaw all nurses and asked what could I do. There were two choices; to work as an auxiliary or enrol as a State Enrolled Nurse (SEN) as I had passed the practical exam, and retake the exam as an external candidate. So after becoming a SEN and working for six months in Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester I resat and passed the written exam by studying by myself.

My blue uniform

At last I was able to wear a blue uniform! (SENs wore green). I was offered a post as sister while working in the emergency department but declined it because I felt I didn’t have enough experience. After completing a specialist course on emergency nursing at Stockport Infirmary I accepted my first post as a nursing sister. It was around this time that hats were no longer worn by nurses!!

2 Responses to “What Motivated you to become who you are?”

  1. Heather Temple-Heald 1 May 2021 at 18:23 #

    Very interesting, enjoyed reading about your motivation.

  2. malcolmhtrotter 1 May 2021 at 20:33 #

    Great personal social history story – wonderfully told. Thank you for sharing it Trish.
    I can’t resist asking the predictable question – were you wearing the uniform when Richard first met you?

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