Still nursing after 50 years on the job
Laughter is the key to a long career in nursing for Hawke’s Bay woman Cath Hellyer who began work five decades ago.
On Thursday Hellyer celebrated her 50th year working for different iterations of Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, only the third person to achieve 50 years since long service records began in the late 1990s.
She began in July 1966 at Napier Hospital in the days when nurses served an apprenticeshipstyle scheme and lived in hostels under the control of a matron.
The matron was responsible for monitoring their work and there were strict curfews.
‘‘We had a salary with no penal rates, and had one day off a week. We all were required to live in the hostel. No flatting till you were 21-years-old, and if you got married or pregnant you left,’’ she said.
‘‘When I was young there was nursing, teaching or secretary work. I would have like to be an archeologist but it wasn’t available to women.’’
Despite picking nursing from a narrow range of options she has enjoyed her work.
She later completed surgical, medical and casualty endorsements, then worked in Napier Hospital’s casualty or emergency unit.
‘‘I nursed the first AIDS patient in New Zealand. This disease was unheard of , having two lines written about it in a medical text book.
‘‘In 1975 I married Graeme and Katrina was born in 1978. My maiden name was Brown so I was called ‘ Brownie’ and still am called this by older doctors.’’
Her role in the nurses’ union has also been a defining aspect of her career.
‘‘My union interest started early on with discussion of rostering of days off with management when I was about 19. I do not like to see staff disadvantaged or being ‘used’ so I learnt to speak up.’’
Following harsh restructuring of nurses in the late 1980s and early 1990s she began taking part in contract negotiations.
From 2004 to 2015 she was one of five negotiators for the New Zealand Nursing organisation’s collective contracts.
She now works in the discharge lounge at Hawke’s Bay Hospital, organising what patients need before they leave and has to plans to retire just yet.
‘‘I enjoy working with patients and staff. I also enjoy the laughter we all share.’’
Hawke’s Bay woman Cath Hellyer says her union work has been a defining aspect of her career.