If there is a nursing gene, it undoubtedly runs in the Williams family. Danielle Williams, the youngest of the Hawke’s Bay dynasty of nurses, recently graduated from her Bachelor of Nursing at EIT. Her 52-year-old mother Chrissie has been a nurse for the past 30 years. She too followed in her own mother Barbara’s footsteps, who again pursued the same career as her late mother Maud Mackie. Maud was one of the first nurses on the scene after the devastating Napier earthquake and helped with treating victims amongst the ruins of collapsed buildings.
Danielle, 22, always knew that she wanted to become a nurse and continue the family tradition. “I saw the joy and the satisfaction that my mum gained from her work, I heard her stories and what impact she had on people’s lives. It was inspiring.”
After her graduation Danielle took up a role at Waikato Hospital in Hamilton in the Haematology and Oncology department. This specialised area offers her a lot of additional education and learning opportunities.
Barbara, now 78, her mother Maud, as well as her daughter Chrissie all worked in Pahiatua hospital which was closed down in 1998. But then again, nothing is like it was back then. Barbara says that she worked merely “for love”. “While we were trainee nurses we weren’t allowed to get married. Sometimes we got up at five to work the whole day and all of us nurses lived in the same building. White uniforms on duty, blue ones when off-duty,” she smiles. “And when a senior nurse came along we had to stand straight with our hands behind our back. We didn’t really question it.”
Barbara still meets regularly with her nursing colleagues of that time. “And we still have a laugh and talk about Mr Strange in ward number 11.” But there where sad and grim moments too. “I didn’t like theatre too much and the terminally ill patients we had to look after. I still cry when I think of that two-year-old toddler who died of leukaemia. They just took her away and that was it,” Barbara says.
In light of stories like these, debriefing is a big part of family get-togethers. “It’s like a reflective practice to call each other and to vent negative feelings or frustrations”, Chrissie and Danielle say. For Danielle it’s about finding a colleague at work who you can trust and confide in. The transition from being a student to working in a hospital was difficult, but it helped her gain a lot more confidence.
Being a nurse is tough. Nurses can never abandon the responsibility they have as medical professionals. “I still remember that day that mum and I travelled to a wedding in Rotorua. There was a bike race on, and we stopped to help a cyclist who had crashed and was in critical condition. We were the first ones there and had to stop the traffic to help him,” Chrissie remembers.
The biggest challenge nowadays though, they say, is the cultural diversity of the country which often leads to communication problems and people lacking trust in medical services. At EIT Danielle says that cultural safety is woven through all courses and forms a big part of the nursing curriculum. It is important for nurses to be able to change their communication techniques to make sure people understand and trust them. “Luckily there are many support systems which my grandmother didn’t have,” Danielle says.
The women agree that the connection you build with patients is an integral part of the healing process. “Sometimes it’s even more important to help their relatives, give them a hug or a shoulder rub,” says Danielle. “I just love to hear other people’s stories,” admits Chrissie. “I often ask them what they would be doing if they weren’t here and ask about family and the sports they are playing. It’s just about giving them the feeling that they are not a number.”
CAPTION: A family of passionate nurses (from l.): Chrissie, Danielle and Barbara who holds a picture of her late mother Maud.