Nursing in the ‘70s gone but not forgotten By Liz Rogers

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Tyabb resident Clare Donovan has written a book. It was never meant to be a best-seller nor have wide recognition nor a huge print run. But it has achieved what the author set out to do. This is a book that gives readers an insight into what nursing was like in the 1970s and beyond and will remain as a chronicle on nursing long after this holistic-first generation of care-givers has passed on. 

Gone Nursing is about a time when things were done differently. It is also about a time when patients stayed in hospital for up to two weeks instead of two days, and each nurse looked after their patient one to one. Times have changed and so has the way in which care is delivered in hospital, which makes this read a ripper.

Clare explains. “We were hospital-trained, not university-trained. I did my HSC at Frankston High in 1970 and was going to be a teacher. Everybody in my family were teachers, but I didn’t want to go to university and my parents didn’t have the funds to keep me there anyway. A friend had ‘gone nursing’ and the stories she told made it sound interesting, plus it was a paid position, which I thought was fabulous! I went to live in the nurses’ quarters near Prince Henry’s Hospital in the city after growing up in Mount Eliza, then went on to Williamstown Hospital to finish my training. It was the ideal way to get out of home, and the work was challenging too. I still catch up frequently with those nurses. We have a very strong bond.”

She continues. “It took me a couple of years to finally put pen to paper because I wanted to cover other nurses’ experiences as well as my own. I had been working in the pharmaceutical industry after leaving nursing and was working full-time. I didn’t really have the space to write it until I retired, and it has been very rewarding because the response from other nurses has been huge. I’ve also had nurses of this generation tell me how interesting it is to see how it used to be done.”

Clare printed 250 copies of her self-published tome this year and has only a few copies left and will need a reprint. Dedicated to “nurses everywhere” for their “dedication and compassion”, Gone Nursing takes you through the ward rounds, exam time, nurses’ home, children’s ward, night duty, death and dying, and emergency codes for starters. But that’s only a snapshot. “It was only when I had a friend as a patient that the penny dropped. I realised that everybody belongs to someone and you never deal with a person in isolation. Nursing is about getting the whole picture and connecting. We never had any formal debriefing when something challenging happened. We relied on each other and that built real comradeship. I still have many of those friendships today.”

It’s true that advancements in diagnosis have brought about better outcomes for patients and many nurses are now nurse practitioners who have special training and can prescribe medicine, but Gone Nursing brings a refreshing understanding of what it was like to work alongside other student nurses who always had your back. It also highlights the importance of human connection. If you’d like to read more, email [email protected] to order a copy.