In the first week of Semester Two my classmates and I eagerly awaited a schedule of reduced classroom time and increased clinical time with patients on the hospital units. From January through to the middle of June, three full days each week were to be dedicated to doing nursing work with patients in the hospital. We anticipated these clinical days with a mix of excitement and fear.
But first, we had a full week of classroom instruction to review and solidify the nursing knowledge we had accumulated in first semester. In addition to a summary review of previous learnings, three new courses for second semester were introduced: Medical-Surgical Nursing, Sociology, and Psychology. Sociology, taught by our Director and defined as, “the influence of society on a person” 1. began with a class on professionalism and nursing, and the distinction between unions and professional associations.
Each of us was familiar with unions: the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) had a very high public profile in Windsor, representing thousands of (male) auto workers on the assembly lines of three car factories in the city. But there were no unionized staff (that I recall) and certainly, no unionized nurses, in the Windsor hospitals. That was a line we nursing students understood we would not cross. Unions had no place in our working lives; we knew our value; to be unionized would demean our professional self images.
The concept of professionalism, however, was fuzzy to most of the students in the Class of ‘70. We were all fiercely proud of becoming Registered Nurses – Angels of Mercy – in the tradition of Florence Nightingale and Jeanne Mance. I, for one, probably confused that pride with professionalism. The Director advocated that we join our professional organization, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), circulating a copy of its monthly journal to entice us. Membership was voluntary; it was not a union, of course; and while the membership fee for students was half price, the journal didn’t interest me and I didn’t really see the benefit of joining. Throughout my three years as a student nurse, I had no clear understanding of the terms professionalism or professionals. Perhaps university educated nurses understood those concepts, but ours was a training school; we learned the practical aspects of nursing, not the nebulous ones. Very few Registered Nurses in Ontario were university graduates at the time, so the notion of professionalism was not part of our everyday language. It was just a given: we were proud, professional nurses.
Finally, the week of classes ended; our first full clinical day arrived. With gut wrenching anxiety we made our way through the hospital tunnel and reported to our clinical units. My assigned patient was Mrs. Ross, a woman finally recovered from pneumonia, who was being discharged that afternoon. I would be responsible for discharging her, preparing her room for a new patient and admitting the new patient when s/he arrived. As I left the nursing station to check on my patient, the Head Nurse, Mrs. Kay, called out “students, please be at the Servery at 8 am sharp.” We didn’t know why, but we didn’t dare question the command. When I reached Mrs. Ross’ room, she told me she didn’t need help with anything. She was dressed and ready to go home, eagerly waiting for her doctor to arrive and discharge her. I would have plenty of time to get to the Servery as per Mrs. Kay’s order.
- Bibs and Beanies, 1968, pg 11. The Metropolitan General Hospital School of Nursing yearbook