Books: Eight Turbulent Decades

By October 28, 2013Books

Submitted. Nurses who trained at Royal Columbian Hospital share stories in a new illustrated book.

Starting in 1901 for almost 80 years, generations of nurses trained at the Royal Columbian Hospital School of Nursing. Their education included administering care in a real-life setting, for these student nurses also staffed the wards, learning as they worked, and lived on site.

What was life like for student nurses “in training”? How did their experiences change over the decades? A new illustrated book, A Call to Nurse, provides answers to these questions through the first-person accounts of the students themselves.

Compiled and published by a team of five school alumnae, this large-format book features the recollections of former students, dating back to the very first graduate, Ethel Cunningham (1903).

Candid accounts detail strict rules and stricter matrons, embarrassing moments in patient care, as well as off-duty hijinks. They reveal that the students were mostly young and naïve. And they were often lonely, living away from home for the first time. But life in residence meant they were also surrounded by caring classmates and overseen by a “house mother” concerned for their health and welfare.

Given fading memories and aging alumnae, the authors felt it was important to capture their school’s history before it was lost. As they state in the book’s prologue,
“Without these stories, future generations would likely never know the way it was in a hospital school of nursing.”
Besides changes in nurses’ education, A Call to Nurse charts the evolution of nursing itself. Says former nurse Myrna Bloch, “Gone are the days when a doctor would order TLC and we had time to give it.”

The book includes a wealth of photographs, cartoons and archival material, documenting everything from the procedure for a turpentine enema (1910s) to the many steps required to prepare a narcotic injection (1950s).

An architectural, institutional, labour and social history rolled into one, A Call to Nurse brings readers the voices and stories of RCH graduates. It represents a fitting tribute to these nurses, their instructors and their school, which for much of the 20th century played a vital role in nursing education in British Columbia.

BOOK LAUNCH: Sunday, October 27, 1:30 – 4:00 pm
Sherbrooke Lounge, 260 Sherbrooke Street, New Westminster, B.C.
Helen Shore, former instructor at the school and a distant relative of Florence Nightingale, will be in attendance.

A Call to Nurse: Memories of Life On and Off Duty in a Hospital Training School, 1901–1978
Compiled and published by the Royal Columbian Hospital
School of Nursing Alumnae Book Committee
8¼ x 10½ inches • 274 pages • ISBN 978-1-77136-111-8
$45.00 CDN • Illustrated, with bibliography, appendices including list of graduates

Copies of this book may be purchased locally at the following outlets: RCH Auxiliary gift shop, 330 East Columbia Street; Cap’s Bicycle Shop, 434 East Columbia Street; Ostomy Care & Supply Centre, 2004 Eighth Avenue; and Black Bond Books.
Book webpage.

For more info or to order a copy by mail, please contact Pauline Dunn, 604-581-1958, or Myrna Bloch, 604-888-4348 or

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