Blood, sweat and tears shaped nursing workforce.
Article Type: Conference news
Subject: Nurses (Services)
Nurses (Practice)
Pub Date: 10/01/2009
Publication: Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032
Issue: Date: Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 9
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information; 200 Management dynamics
Product: Product Code: 8043100 Nurses NAICS Code: 621399 Offices of All Other Miscellaneous Health Practitioners
Persons: Named Person: O'Connor, Mary Ellen
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 210919896
Full Text: Nurses' fearlessness, dedication and generosity impressed NZNO historian Mary Ellen O'Connor during her research for the book Freed to Core, Proud to Nurse, written to mark the centenary of NZNO. It is to be launched on International Nurses' Day next year.

Speaking at the conference, O'Connor said as a non-nurse she knew nothing of the association or organisation before beginning her work.

Hester Maclean had set the tone from the very beginning of the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Assocation with her sheer hard work and dedication. "Exploitation is not too strong a word for what happened to this early nursing workforce. The blood, sweat and tears that shaped this workforce is given apt expression in the quotation 'Everyone expects a nurse to look like a girl, act like a woman, think like a man and work like a dog", O'Connor said.

The "sheer generosity" of the nursing workforce astounded O'Connor, particularly given their meagre pay packets, and their endless support of good causes from the Napier Earthquake Relief Fund, the Nurses' War Memorial Fund, the Nursing Education and Research Foundation ... "I could go on and on".

The fearlessness of the early district nurses who rode horses along and up and down cliffs, literally cutting tracks as they went, and of those who went to war, was impressive. "There was a phalanx of fearless nurses; a series of these titans. In a time when few professions were open to women, nursing attracted the brightest and best. It was also a time when power was concentrated in fewer hands and there were very large personalities wielding a lot of power," she said.

O'Connor was also struck by the "very vocational nature of nursing, with lives given to the cause. They were like nuns--almost. They certainly lived poverty, generally lived chastity and either accepted or demanded obedience."

Nurses were also very strategic when required. Referring to Operation Nurse Education in 1972, to move nursing education from hospitals to tertiary education institutions, O'Connor said nurses were determined to make the Carpenter Report stick and did everything to make that happen.

She referred to the Nurses Are Worth More Campaign of 1985 during which nurses threatened industrial action for the first time. "Such was the enormous frustration that 42 percent of members were prepared to take industrial action." She related the story of then Prime Minister David Lange visiting the then NZNA office unannounced to check the "mood on the ground", after which a settlement was negotiated very rapidly.

O'Connor referred to NZNO's and Te Runanga o Aotearoa NZNO's bicultural partnership as "a work in progress" but said she had been impressed by the determination on both sides to go forward together.

NZNA/NZNO had "punched above its weight" at the International Council of Nurses, with five New Zealand nurses having sat on the ICN board. O'Connor said she had been astounded by the depth and breadth of nursing specialisation and "the army of professional nurses who put in enormous effort at the section and college level of the organisation".

She said the last four chapters of the book were the most complex and the most contested, as most of the participants were still alive and juggling the various perspectives had been the challenge.

"But writing this book has been a great privilege, honour and education. I thank you all for that."

Conference coverage by co-editors Teresa O'Connor and Anne Manchester
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.