Fifty years ago teenage girls Anne Rankin and Rose Brown stood at the Princess Macha statue at Altnagelvin Hospital waving goodbye to their parents as they took their first tentative steps into a career in nursing.
They had never met before, but would spend the next three years living and training together as student nurses in the Agnes Jones Nurses’ Home.
Those three years turned into 50 years and in August this year, the two women will retire from nursing together on the same day, having givenmore than half a century of service.
Now under their married names Anne Hall and Rose Green, the women look back on their years nursing in various fields and say they can’t believe five decades have now passed.
“It’s happened in the blink of an eye,” says Rose. “Anne and I met that first day and we have been friends ever since. I had been in the St John Ambulance Cadets since I was eight and I loved it. I took a course in the ‘Tech’ and then stepped into Altnagelvin Hospital.”
Anne said that in 1966 the choices for women in terms of careers were teaching or nursing.
“I didn’t want to be a teacher,” she said. “So I decided to go for nursing. I had no experience whatsoever until I arrived as a student nurse as Altnagelvin.”
Living in Agnes Jones House and working in the hospital was hard work but the two women said they had great fun.
“It was lovely being there,” said Anne. “Everyone got to know everyone else.”
“Nursing for us was a vocation,” said Rose, “We would have gone into the wards and had a lot of practise with the patients. Fifty years on nurses go to university and into different settings.”
Anne recalls how ‘hands on’ the student nurses were back in the ‘60s.
“There was a lot more respect in those days and there was a hierarchy, you looked up to, the Sister. The beds all had to be straight with the wheels facing the same way. With your uniform you had your collar and cuffs, your white apron and your belt. You had to wear black tights and black shoes, but you really felt like a nurse.”
After three years training the women were qualified.
“You had to pass all your exams,” said Rose. “I stayed in Altnagelvin and later went into the paediatric ward. I just loved it. When you stepped into that ward it was like a whole new world opening up in front of you. I just loved what I was doing. I loved being in ward ten dealing with babies and mammies and daddies.”
PALLIATIVE CARE UNIT
Twenty years ago when Rose and Anne both decided to move into palliative care.
Rose worked first of all in the oncology paediatric unit, while Anne worked for Marie Curie before they moved to the Foyle Hospice.
“The whole ethos and holistic approach of palliative care meant so much to us,” said Rose. “We look after the spiritual, the emotional and physical side. It is such a privilege.”
“Nursing is a vocation,” said Anne, “It’s not something you can give 80% too, it is 100%. Emotionally it can be challenging and sometimes people can be angry and find it hard to accept that their loved one is ill, and we are there to listen.”
“Listening is a special skill,” said Rose.
The women paid tribute to the many people they have worked with over the years with special mention for Foyle Hospice founder Tom McGinley and retired Hospice chaplain Bishop Edward Daly.
“It’s been hard work, “ Anne and Rose agree. “It’s much more than standing in a uniform taking a temperature. What we have done with our lives has been so rewarding and we got great job satisfaction.”
The nurses will be celebrating International Nurses Day on 12th May with their colleagues at the Foyle Hospice.