5. Tales of a Student Nurse: Classes Begin

Until our uniforms arrived, we’d wear a lab coat over our clothing whenever we went to the hospital. Each nursing student had ordered custom made uniforms from a Toronto company back in July, 1967 and was told they’d arrive at the School of Nursing in eight to ten weeks. Once our uniforms arrived, our regulation daily attire would be uniform, cap and our name tag pinned to the top right of our uniform bodice. The uniform was always to be clean and pressed, shoes polished, and stockings intact: runs were simply unacceptable. Hair was not to touch the collar, so long hair had to be worn up and be covered by the cap. Student nurses were not permitted to wear makeup to classes or to the clinical areas. The bib apron was always to be worn if patient contact was expected; if not, the uniform could be worn without the apron, but wearing a lab coat over it was preferred. To ensure cleanliness and to reduce the risk of infections, the nurse’s fingernails had to be clean, cut short, and be un-polished. The wearing of jewelry when in uniform was not permitted; the only exception was the wristwatch pinned to the uniform’s bodice or apron bib, allowing the student to see its second hand while counting respirations and heart beat. In our final year, married nurses were permitted to wear a flat band wedding ring without stones or embellishments of any kind.

Moral standards, playing a key role in the code of professional conduct, were also expected to be above reproach. A nurse’s personal reputation, like her uniform, had to be squeaky clean. Nurses were never to fraternize with patients they would meet in the hospital, nor were they to enter into romantic relationships with patients after their discharges. Many of my classmates were already involved in serious relationships with boyfriends when they entered the program. These relationships were perfectly acceptable but the student was expected to remain chaste. Remember, it was 1967: the birth control pill was not yet readily available so chastity was the only way to guarantee that pregnancy did not occur. Marriage was forbidden prior to the final student year; an unexpected pregnancy before that warranted automatic expulsion from the nursing program.

My Big Sister, Zoe, loved being a student nurse and was passionate about becoming a Registered Nurse. Zoe was my role model, the perfect example of the nurse I wanted to be. She was beautiful, carried herself with dignity and pride, and was able to make even that uniform look good. If ever there was a Nurse to be emulated, for me it was Zoe.

In the winter of my first year in nurses’ training I lost my Big Sister, Zoe, to an unexpected pregnancy. I remember her fondly and with sadness to this day.

Read more Tales of a Student Nurse stories!

Class photo from yearbook

Class photo from yearbook

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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