5. Tales of a Student Nurse: Classes Begin

Monday morning at the nurses’ residence started out with breakfast at seven in the dining area: boiled eggs, oatmeal, orange or apple juice, soggy toast and coffee, tea or milk. Hurrying back upstairs with my new friends, Sandy and Karen, we collected our pens and papers, threw on our lab coats, glanced doubtfully down at our shiny black, military oxfords, probably the ugliest part of our regulation student nurse’s uniform, and returned to the basement and our classroom.

The Director of the School of Nursing welcomed us back and proceeded directly to introduce us to the first year curriculum and the concept of nursing values. These values were associated with the history of brave and selfless nurses like Jeanne Mance and Florence Nightingale who didn’t just espouse the values of a nurse, but lived them. Belief in the dignity of every human being and respect for their personal wishes was paramount in the nurse’s value system. Providing compassion and care for the sick and dying was the creed of these women who, by their example, established nursing as a noble calling. Promoting ideas of social justice, they graciously provided care for the poor and destitute, the wounded and the outcast.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was an English social reformer who is known as the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence during the Crimean War where she managed nurses, those she had previously trained, as they cared for the wounded in the field. Known as “The Lady with the Lamp” for making rounds of wounded soldiers in the night, she gave nursing a very favourable reputation among Victorian era women and men. Jeanne Mance (1606 – 1673) was a French nurse who settled in New France shortly after the Ursuline nuns came to Quebec. One of the founders of Montreal in 1642 she established its first hospital, the Hotel Dieu de Montreal, in 1645. She provided direct patient care for a number of years, but in 1657 successfully recruiting three nursing sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph’s allowed her the time to administer and maintain hospital operations into the future.

Florence and Jeanne

Florence Nightingale and Jeanne Mance

The nursing profession’s code of conduct complemented nursing values, explained our Director. Before venturing to the hospital for our first day working with patients, it was imperative that we understood our professional code of conduct. These were the rules we were to live by: in all situations, both personal and professional, the nurse’s conduct had to be above reproach. The nurse’s uniform, the outward symbol of commitment to that code of conduct, was the first impression we’d convey to the public so our appearance had to reach the highest possible standards at all times.

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Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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