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  • History of Nursing in New Zealand

    Author: HealthTimes

A history of nursing in New Zealand begins in the 1800s.  The first hospital was established in Auckland in 1850.

There were also informal basic cottage hospitals run by untrained women, some little more than domestic servants, where able-bodied patients were expected to look after the other patients.  A lot of these basic hospitals were not very clean and some did not even use disinfectant.

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From about 1883 untrained nurses were replaced with trained nurses.  Nurses from around the world had been inspired by Florence Nightingale’s approach to nursing during the Crimean War and realised that cleanliness and some form of training was essential when caring for the sick.

At this time there were more regular hospitals, rather than the informal basic cottage hospitals.  These professional
nurses were trained by experienced nurses in a hospital setting.

In 1888 lectures were first given to student nurses who had to pass an exam after 12 months training and in the early 1900s nurses were able to become registered and even undertake postgraduate studies. 
In 1901 New Zealand was the first country to have registered nurses with the Nurses Registration Act.

At first, female nurses were only allowed to work in women’s hospital wards.  The few male nurses were only allowed to work in the men’s wards, however in later years women were also allowed to work in the men’s wards as it was discovered that female nurses had a settling effect on the male patients.

In the early 1900s the Karitane form of nursing was founded in New Zealand by Sir Truby King, in a cottage at Karitane.  At that time, Karitane nursing involved the care of newborn babies, ensuring they were well nourished and well cared for, as some new mothers did not know the proper way to care for their baby.  Lady Plunket, the New Zealand governor’s wife, became patroness of the Plunket Nurse Organisation For Baby Welfare.  Today, Karitane nursing is practised all over the world.

Nurses were even allowed to open their own private hospitals in these early years but due to the cost of expensive hospital equipment in later years only the larger, well-funded private hospitals remained in existence.

In 1908 the first quarterly issue of a nurses’ journal, Kai Tiaki (the Watcher, the Guardian) was published.  This was the first nurses’ publication in New Zealand and an important step towards developing nursing into a real profession.  It is still being published today.

In 1909 the New Zealand Trained Nurses’ Association was founded and in 1912 the Association was accepted by the International Council of  Nurses at the International Congress of Nurses held in Cologne, Germany.

Around 1913 the Army Nursing Service was formed.  When World War I began, the Army Nursing Service sent their members on troop ships to help provide nursing care for the soldiers.

In 1917 the School Nursing Service was formed.  Trained nurses visited children at school to check they were following the doctor’s orders in regard to treatment.  In country areas school nurses became more of a community nurse and also visited the parents of school children and mothers with new born babies.

In 1934 the New Zealand Trained Nurses’ Association became the New Zealand Registered Nurses’ Association until 1971.  It was then called the New Zealand  Nurses’ Association until 1993.  In 1993 it became known as the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation and is still operating today.

Nursing gradually changed over the years.  In the 1960s, a nurse’s training encompassed three years basic training in a hospital.  He or she attended lectures at the hospital based school and practised their practical skills in a demonstration room.

In the 1960s and 70s, a nurse supervised student nurses who did the actual nursing.  From the 1980s, the nurse’s role changed to undertaking the actual nursing herself.

In the 1960s thought was given to making nursing a tertiary degree course.  Many nurse tutors in the 1950s and 60s did not have formal degrees that qualified them to be teachers.

In the 1970s training moved away from being hospital-based and instead student nurses enrolled in universities or polytechnics to undertake nursing studies.  This was influenced by the Carpenter Report during this decade, which recommended that changes should be made to the current training system and recommended a tertiary based education.

Since those fledgling tertiary days in the 1970s, the study of nursing has become organised and currently there are 17 schools of nursing in New Zealand.

In the 1990s, ‘culturally safe’ nursing emerged.  This pertains to the way in which to nurse and care for Maoris.  This form of nursing ensures that both patient and nurse are happy with the style of nursing employed.

By 1995 a three year nursing degree course was offered at all polytechnics.  Graduates were registered as a comprehensive nurse.  During this decade, nursing students were encouraged to undertake self-directed learning as well as problem-based learning while studying for their degree.

These days, student nurses undertake a three year Bachelor of Nursing degree.  Their studies are a combination of 50% theory and 50% practical experience.  Graduates of the nursing program are registered as a comprehensive nurse, as they first were in 1995.

Postgraduate studies are available in specific areas of nursing, such as gerontology, leadership and management, high acuity and primary health care.

All nurses must be current with their training as they need to apply each year for a practising certificate by the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have completed further study in this field.  Before they are allowed to practise as a nurse practitioner however, they must be approved by the New Zealand Nursing Council.

Today, nurses can work in various fields such as telehealth or telemedicine, aged care, mental health, rehabilitation, child health or primary health care.

A history of nursing in New Zealand shows you just how much the face of nursing has changed since those early days in informal basic cottage hospitals where patients looked after other patients.  Nursing is now a sought after profession that can give nurses great career prospects.


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