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Nursing Blog

Nursing Blog

Stories about Nursing at Edinburgh straight from our staff and students

A few memories from Lis- a Nursing Studies Original!

It is so strange to be properly in touch with some parts of the Department of Nursing Studies, as all has been closed to us ‘European Pioneer Graduates’ (the phrase was coined by another European Pioneer Graduate’ quite recently, in an e-mail to me!) since November 1996, and the big gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ‘Nurse Teaching Unit’ at the University of Edinburgh. This was on 30th November, 1996, St Andrew’s Day, when the Stone of Destiny/Scone, was returned from the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, to Scotland and Edinburgh Castle!


I am one of the intake of 1961, the second ever intake.  By that time, it was called the Nursing Studies Unit, and was at 19, Chalmers Street, now demolished, I believe.  There were 7 of us, but one girl married, and HAD TO leave because of this.   She is still married to the same man, and living in Munich, Germany! The nursing hierarchy wanted you locked up at 22h30 nightly, in the Nurses’ Homes (of which there were 3, at the old Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh) and available for duty whenever they wanted manpower, (or girl-power!)

We started on Monday 4th September, with 4 weeks on the wards of the RIE, 09h00 – 15h00, on just 5 days of the week.. We were so young and keen, that we hated coming on duty at 09h00, and missing the report and the earlier routines!!  Such is youth!  We were seldom to have weekends off again, during our training, and one day off each week was the norm, but never a weekend day.!!  I know this date because we had to write a DAY BOOK of our clinical experiences, and I consulted this book again, recently.  These Day Books were marked by the lecturers, so in effect became another ‘module’, in modern parlance.  We looked upon it as another chore!

Now, Miss Elsie Stephenson The Unit’s first Director, had the problem of introducing the undergraduate nurses to the hallowed wards of the RIE.  We could not have rooms in the Nurses’ Homes ‘because they are not RIE nurses’.  Nor could we have RIE nurses’ uniforms, ‘because they are not RIE nurses.’  So my parents had to buy me 3 white coats, and mine were far from flattering   (A power-cut intervened, for a few moments, here!  There is lightning about, and it’s been hitting planes as they come in to land, in Shetland!)

I was able to meet Alison Wood for the first time, because Professor Pam Smith and her husband rented a cottage here in Unst, northernmost British Isle, where I live.  That was a surprise to me, as Pam e-mailed me after their arrival in Unst.  We were able to meet on two days and talk things over.  Pam told me about Alison Wood and the blog, and has photos of the two of us, together, in Unst.  She also told me about Christine Hallett, Professor of the History of Nursing.  She seems to know NOTHING about the ‘European Graduate Pioneers’ of the University of Edinburgh.    However, I have recently ferreted out 25 of the 27 surviving (still alive) Pioneers.  Two seem to be missing, just now!

Before I was due to meet Alison Wood and Christina Valentien (2nd year), I had an adventure meeting the City of Edinburgh’s Organist, Dr John Kitchen, at the Usher Hall.  That was very special.  We had coffee and a chat – we had never met before – and a tour of the Usher Hall.  This ended with a quick blast on the Usher Hall Organ.  Just great!!

As I left there, I remembered yet again that we had started our 4 weeks of work on the wards of RIE, staying in the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing’s Training Home at 29, Castle Terrace.  5 of us stayed there for September 1961, (the other 2 had homes in Edinburgh, and were allowed to stay there for these 4 weeks, but not for the rest of our hospital training, years later.  4 of us liked it so much that we asked it we could stay on – £12/month, full board and a room of your own, with heating that only came on after 18h00 – a BARGAIN!!!  (I had a grant of about £70/term!).  The answer was ‘Yes!’  It is so central, and we were living and eating 3 meals a day in the Victoria dining room in the basement, with real trained nurses and midwives.  However, they were locked up at 22h30, many of them married!  We were given door-keys.  I protested about this, but was told, ‘But you are university students!’  I never did understand that one!

In the last few weeks of our first year, and while we were studying for final first year exams, ‘they’ started to build the multi-storey car park!  Bang!  Bang!!  Bang!!! went the pile-drivers.  So now you now when that all happened – summer of 1962!
So I wandered towards the Old Medical School – what a lovely building!  We three met at ??14h00 (‘Yes!  I remember to well!’), and went to the cafe-terrasse on Middle Meadow Walk, where photos were taken.  Alison say she will add these to whatever I write!

This comes with warm wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Healthy and Prosperous New Year, 2015, from Britain’s northernmost island, Unst.
Lis Nicolson nee Booth

Thank you Lis, for sharing your stories, memories and your time with Christina and myself, and now the rest of the world through this blog! It has certainly got me thinking about my time as a Nursing Studies undergraduate, these may feature in the Nursing Studies Blog in 2015!
Happy Holidays!


1 reply to “A few memories from Lis- a Nursing Studies Original!”

  1. Alison Wallis says:

    Thank you Lis for your wonderful story. I was one of the class of 1971-76 and things had moved on accommodation wise in the 10 years since you started. We are in the process of planning a 40 year reunion to be held at the end of May and hope to invite any members of staff from our era. Lots of memories to share.

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