97 Years Nursing

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Annette Joyce and Jan O’Dea have a combined total of 97 years in the nursing profession! Both ladies have just retired and started a new chapter in their lives. Here, they share the stories behind their training – and they also offer some advice for future nursing candidates!

Where are you originally from?

AJ: I moved to Port Macquarie in 1963 and have lived here for the majority of my life. Who would want to live elsewhere?

JO: I was born and grew up in Port Kembla (Illawarra area), then moved to another coastal town – Port Macquarie – in 1989, bringing with me my husband, Ken and two young children, Jerrod and Clare, then aged four and two years old.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

AJ: I had not intended going into nursing. I left school in Year 10 and attended Wauchope Technical College to become a secretary, studying typing, shorthand and commerce. I started working in a bike/spare parts shop in Wauchope for a few months, doing bookwork. It was not really what I wanted to spend my working life doing. I then worked in the kitchen of a motel for a few months, before deciding to apply to study as an Enrolled Nurse at the Hastings District Hospital in 1970. I was asked to start immediately. I sat for my ENs exam at the Kempsey District Hospital, then worked in Armidale for a few months as an EN.

JO: Nursing was not a long time dream for me. When I finished Year 11, I was undecided what direction my future would take and decided to try nursing, so I suppose you could say I fell into it by default.

Where did you complete your studies/training?

AJ: In 1972 I commenced my RN training at the Hastings District Hospital, and we would travel to Tighes Hill Technical College for our block classes – I was in the very first class that went through this type of college system, starting in what they called Preliminary Training School. We stayed in different nurses’ homes in the area. After our block of study, we were sent to one of the bigger hospitals in Newcastle for a week of practical.

JO: My “General Nurse’s training”, as it was then called, was undertaken at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. I then went on to Wollongong Hospital to complete Obstetrics and a few years later obtained a Paediatric certificate at Prince of Wales Children’s Hospital.

What areas of nursing did you work in?

AJ: I spent between 9 – 10 months of my training in the operating rooms and apart from the surgery, we used to cut our own combine, roll cotton wool balls and count out the sponges and Raytec swabs in fives. We also had to sharpen the needles and autoclave them – we used to wash, wrap and autoclave all our own instruments and drapes.

On completing my training, I thought I would do Midwifery at St Margaret’s in Darlinghurst – I lasted three months, as I missed working in the operating rooms. I applied to Taree Base Hospital and worked in their operating rooms 1976 – 77, until a position came up at the Old Hastings. I worked in recovery for 10 years, as well as the OR when needed – then it was back in the OR permanently.

We used to cook our frankfurts for hotdogs in the flash steriliser for lunch. There was one year where the doctors were all on strike for nine months. I am not really sure now what it was over, and when we weren’t doing emergency surgery or being sent to the wards – we became professional UNO players!

We moved to Port Base late 1994 – some of us using our own cars to transfer equipment from the Hastings to the new operating rooms. I worked in the Port Base until Oct 1995, then worked in administration at Bellevue Gardens Retirement Village and followed up any medical problems that cropped up with the residents.  

I worked in a doctors’ surgery for a few months in 2003, until I had a phone call from a great friend, John Crompton, whom I worked with for many years in the OR. He asked if I would like to come back to work at the Base. In July 2003, I started working in the Day Surgery Unit and stayed until I retired on March 23 this year.

JO: During the course of my career I have worked in paediatrics, gynaecology and obstetrics, school medical nursing, general community health, nursing management, a short stint of private home nursing in England and finished off in postoperative recovery.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

AJ: What did I find most rewarding in my career? I was working the day of the Clybucca Bus Crash – the response to that crash is something I will never forget.

JO: People! I have worked with some amazing nurses and in this field of work you meet people from all walks of life. Working with children and their families, you become part of that family for a little while, and being able to help them is very rewarding. Mentoring new staff is another aspect of my career that I really enjoyed.

What advice would you give to someone studying nursing today?

AJ: There are so many specialty areas now that were not available in a country hospital when I trained, so my advice to anyone studying nursing in these times is to try and work in all areas of a hospital, to find what specialty suits.

JO: Advice? I suppose the most important thing is to enjoy interacting with other people. Nursing is often hard, both mentally and physically, so you really need to like what you are doing.

What are your retirement plans?

AJ: I have many different hobbies, which I enjoy. Maybe when husband John decides to retire we might travel Australia for short periods. Six of our grandchildren live in town – the youngest being two year old triplets – so we do tend to babysit quite a bit, which we love doing.

JO: My husband and I have bought a motorhome and are currently on our way to Uluru – I am sending these responses from Wentworth (a gorgeous little town on the junction of the Murray/Darling Rivers). 

We plan to spend the next few years on the road, in between visits to my 95 year old mother in Port Kembla and to Port Macquarie, to catch up with family and friends.

Thanks ladies. 

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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