On 1st April 1908 the nurses’ Training at the Coast was lengthened to four years.
The imposition of an extra year was not a government initiative, at that time governments were not involved in setting nursing standards. Nor did it come from the nurses own controlling body the A.T.N.A.
The instigation of a four year certificate course began with the innovative executive nurses at the Prince Alfred Nurses’ Training School, starting first as an optional extra in 1889, a type of postgraduate course.
The Prince Alfred Board opposed this extra year of training allegedly on financial grounds but made it mandatory in 1906 because most trainee nurses had contracted to do the fourth year.
The Coast Hospital Nurses’ Training School was the second major hospital to adopt the four year certificate course, no doubt due to Matron Watson having trained at Prince Alfred. She knew and respected the judgement of the leading nurses there, particularly that of Miss Susan McGahey, a London Hospital trained nurse, who had been a sister and Matron at Prince Alfred and a leading executive member of the A.T.N.A. Susan McGahey was a dynamic, intelligent woman with revolutionary ideas (for the times) about nurses education.
The four year training course had one big advantage, it was recognised in Great Britain. There was reciprocity with comparable British certificates and work permits were instantly issued to holders of the four year certificates which were not given to all three year certificate holders.
The first nurse at the Coast to complete the four year course, Mary Redfen Watt, was nearly 30 when she commenced training on 14th April 1908. Mary’s sister Mona Martel Watt had commenced her training 10 months before. She was 22 and would qualify in three years. Both sisters had lively, outgoing personalities.
Mary Watt was the fourth probationer to enrol in the new course. She had not expected to be the first four year trainee to graduate.
Matron Watson had chosen 1st April 1908 as the new Training commencement date. Three probationers started that day, none of whom finished. One left in first year, another in second year, the third, Irene May Lindeman, (who came from the Gosford District where her grandfather, Dr Charles Lindeman, was the founder of Lindeman wines,) was four months into her fourth year when she was forced to give up her training due to continuing ill health resulting from a severe attack of scarlet fever a few months earlier.
Both Watt sisters served as Amy Nursing Sisters in World War I. After the war Mona Watt specialised in private nursing, her most famous patient was Dame Nellie Melba.
Mary returned to hospital nursing and later because she was returned service person qualified for a lease of the new Kiosk at the Coast which she and her husband managed for many years.
The increased training time did not stop the flow of applicants, but it did mean that trainee nurses received probationers wages for the extra year during which they were often acting staff nurses. This would cease in 1911 when new labour laws required all employees over 21 years of age to be paid the minimum basic wage, the female basic rate being less than the male wage.
Do you have any photographs, documents or information relating to a relative’s service at Coast Hospital? Prince Henry Hospital Museum is always looking for artefact and ephemera for our collection. Contact the Museum Coordinator for more information.