in the 1950s and 60s: the Medicine Hat School of Nursing
plans for the new hospital to be built in 1954 at one point included busing
the student nurses from the old residence to the new hospital location. Since
the old residence was overcrowded anyway, it was decided to seek approval
to raise funds for a new one.
The new building was a spread-out ranch style with bedrooms in the end wings
and classrooms and lounges in the centre core. When those winter winds whipped
across the prairies, the young students must have really appreciated the fact
that it was connected to the hospital by a tunnel. Actual moving-in day with
all its chaos was January 22nd. 1958.
The girls were kept strictly in their own groups. Probationers, affectionately
known as probies, and juniors, intermediates and seniors were often housed
in different areas of the residence and ate at different tables, depending
on where they were in the hierarchy.
One special person in the students' lives had to be the housemother, who sat
at the front desk, noting comings and goings (especially those after curfew),
sorting mail and delivering messages to the girls, and keeping track of any
visitors. She might have been seen as a jailer, but usually became more of
a grandmother, overlooking the occasional slip-up on the part of her girls.
Room and board were provided free of charge to the nursing students, laundry
was looked after and, other than making their own beds and keeping their rooms
tidy, the girls were not responsible for general cleaning. In spite of their
long days in the wards, it probably was quite a bonus to some of the girls
from farm backgrounds, who would have worked extremely hard at the never-ending
chores at home.
Curfews and late leave
regulations didn't change much over the years until the more relaxed years
of the 1960s came along. The students, after their initial six months of
training, could stay out as late and as often as they liked--as
long as they noted their time of return on a sign-in card. They could even
stay out overnight if they filled out a card with the address of where they
Since the students really were an important part of the actual staff of the
hospital, arrangements for Christmas and other holidays had to be made. As
many patients as were able to go were sent home, but, even with that reduction
in numbers, most of the students were required to work at least part of the
holiday. The hospital board provided a turkey dinner and other organizations
brought decorations and entertainment. Very often the nurses formed their own
choir and sang Christmas carols throughout the hospital for those patients
who couldn't manage to go home. For many of the students it would have been
their first Christmas away from home.
As standards changed over
the years, many assessments had pointed to inadequate teaching facilities
and insufficient numbers of qualified teaching staff. The move to the new
nurses' residence in 1958 addressed the facilities problem to a certain extent,
but in 1963 a special committee from the University of Alberta ranked the
school "last" in the twelve schools throughout the province.
It was thought that closure was imminent, but a reprieve was organized. To
allow time to bring things up to date, it was decided that there would be no
intake class that fall (1963). Upsetting as this was to all concerned, most
particularly to the young women who had applied and been accepted for that
year, the decision was firm.
The next few years under
a newly appointed Director of Nursing Education (for the first time a separate
position from that of Director of Nursing) worked well. The vacant instructional
positions were filled and new classes of students were taken in the following
years. But changes were occurring outside the control of the Medicine Hat
School of Nursing--a trend towards two-year diploma courses
at other educational institutions was the major one. The hospital Board decided
to talk with the equivalent institution in Medicine Hat, the Medicine Hat Junior
College. Finding that plans were already afoot to begin a similar two-year
diploma course, the hospital agreed to provide the practical training that
would be part of the course.
There was, of course, lots
of opposition to closing the school, not the least of which came from the existing
students. They were well taken care of--the seniors
and intermediates would finish their years at Medicine Hat School of Nursing,
graduating in October of 1970 and 1971, and the juniors would be transferred
to the Galt School of Nursing in Lethbridge. The juniors and seniors finished
out those years at Medicine Hat School of Nursing, rattling around in the "new" residence
that had been designed for a hundred and five students--they even had their housemother.