Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2008
Edmonton General nurses recall expert training, friends
Nursing school's 100th anniversary evokes flood of heartfelt memories
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"We were really taught to care for the patient, to always put the patient first."
- Dianne Dunnigan
For these six women, the next 30 months passed in a hectic whirl of bedside care and comprehensive education. It was this first class that developed the school motto, Estote Fideles, which translates to Always be Faithful.
For decades students served as free labour in exchange for their nursing education. They were given free room and board, a uniform, laundry, education and medical care in exchange for committing themselves to three years of looking after patients, Wiart wrote in a brief history she compiled for the school's centennial.
"This sounds like exploitation today. However, it was a godsend for those young women who desperately wanted to improve their education but simply could not find a way to earn enough money that institutions of higher learning were charging at the time."
Students were scheduled for one of two 12-hour shifts 7 days a week. Once a week they were allowed three hours off. In 1916 this was increased to half a day off and this did not change until almost 30 years later.
Classes were mandatory, usually from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sister Casey taught nursing arts and anatomy while the medical staff taught medicine, surgery, pediatrics, gynecology, physiology and psychiatry.
During the two world wars the length of training was increased to include preparation for the Army Medical Corps. Twelve EGH grads served overseas.
Many things changed over the years. The uniform's bib became less stiff, the caps changed in keeping with Grey Nuns nursing hospitals across Canada.
"The skirts got shorter and the students started getting a stipend," Wiart wrote.
"Every new student was designated to a big sister who would be in a class a year ahead of her.
"Should a student propose to enter the holy state of Matrimony, the result was dismissal." This rule only changed in 1965.
Some found the 10 p.m. curfew too much and put a dummy in their bed so the housemother did not look too closely.
In 1967, a new residence was opened. It housed 253 students. The old residence was demolished in 1969.
In 1971 the school was transferred to College Saint Jean. The following year, when the University of Alberta absorbed College Saint Jean, the nursing program was transferred to Grant MacEwan Community College.
Wiart enrolled at the nursing school because it was a Catholic institution that offered free education. Coming from a family of six, it would have been difficult for her parents to send her to university.
Wiart got married two weeks after graduation and then headed north to work as a nurse in the McLennan Hospital.
"I was just a new graduate and they put me in charge of pediatrics," she laughed. The mother of four later worked in Calgary and Edmonton before retiring in 1988.
"Lots of times we were used as staff (at the hospital)," said Dunnigan.
"Maybe we resented it while were in training. But it was a wise move because it provided us with invaluable experience."
Since her 1963 graduation Dunnigan, a mother of four, served in the maternity wards of various hospitals, including the General and the Grey Nuns, until she retired in 1994.
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.