Posted tagged ‘nursing’


December 12, 2012

The first male nurse to graduate from a BC hospital, James Bullen, finished his training at St. Paul’s School of Nursing in 1950. Coincidentally, he was the great-grandson of BC’s first medical doctor – Dr. JS Helmcken. In New Westminster, the first male nurse graduated from RCH in 1968.

That 1968 graduating class saw two massive changes in who could be a nurse. An article in the local New Westminster paper in late 1964 foreshadowed one of these changes, saying that a man had signed up as a student nurse. That’s all it said – no details of who it was (he preferred to remain anonymous), or whether the rules had changed – just that a male had signed up. Then in May of 1968, the following article reported that the first man had graduated from the RCH School of Nursing.

This article also refers to another huge change that would profoundly affect the career decisions of thousands of students – nurses could marry and still practice nursing. Technically, this was not a first. During the Second World War, there was such a shortage of trained nurses that, in order to fill the need, temporary licences were granted, married nurses were permitted to work and student nurses were allowed to marry, though only to servicemen. However, hospital rules often remained that a student could either be a nurse, or marry, but not both.

While it is unlikely that any of the student nurses named in this article are still nursing, some of these names may be familiar.


Rosalind Guppy, Roland Wood, Marna Dueck….graduates

Rosalind Guppy, Roland Wood, Marna Dueck….graduates

“Three years ago, Roland Wood walked into a classroom at the Royal Columbian Hospital school of nursing and was asked by the teacher: “Yes sir, may I help you?” I’m Mr. Wood, and I’m a student,” he replied. Monday night, he ceased being a student and became a full-fledged nurse and the first male graduate of the school.

Wood, who was elected valedictorian of the class, was accompanied by 73 female nurses and one other male nurse, Reinhold Adolf Schmidt, of Chilliwack, at the graduation ceremony at Vincent Massey School auditorium. Schmidt started the course six months after Wood. Wood, 32, said he decided to become a registered nurse after working as a psychiatric nurse at Woodlands school for 10 years. “I decided to step up my qualifications, but the problem was finding a school which would take someone who was both male and married – and Royal Columbian did,” he said.

Wood said his fellow students were surprised but pleased with his entry into the class. “I’ve been sort of a big brother to the girls, and I’ve had a fair amount of wet shoulders during the course,” he said. In his valedictory address, Wood said the students had started out as strangers and had quickly become friends through their common study and work. “We came from many different backgrounds, in many shapes and sized, and for the first time in two sexes,” he said. He paid tribute to the girl graduates. “There are two times in your lives when you’ll look the most beautiful – once when you’re a bride, and once – right now,” he said.

Guest speaker, Eleanor S Graham, executive secretary of the Registered Nurses Association of BC, told the graduates they must make sure they still keep in touch with the patients. “The role of the nurse must change in the future, but the nurse must not be taken farther away from the patient,” she said.

The general proficiency award for the September 1968 graduating class was awarded to Mrs. Marna Dueck, 21, of New Westminster. Mrs. Dueck, who married eight months ago after regulations on marriage were relaxed, said she had always wanted to nurse. “It sort of runs in the family – four of my cousins are nurses too,” she said. Mrs. Dueck said she hopes to enter public health nursing and perhaps work overseas. Her husband, Peter, is a social worker.

Winner of the general proficiency medal for the February, 1968 class was Rosalind Guppy, 23, of New Westminster. The Dr. J Margullius Medical Nursing Award was presented to Annie Millar of Coquitlam, and the Dr. George T. Wilson Surgical Nursing Award to Carolyn M. Davies, of Vernon. The obstetric nursing award for the February class went to Judith C French, of Burnaby, and the paediatric nursing award to Sandra Yurick of Vernon. The September class obstetric award was presented to Fracya C Miller of Vancouver. Barbara Clippingdale, of North Burnaby, won the medical nursing award, and Magdalena Ruesch, of New Westminster, the surgical nursing award.”

Vancouver Sun, May 7, 1968


Isolated But Not Alone

October 17, 2012

The process of isolating patients with communicable diseases has varied widely over the years at Royal Columbian Hospital. In 1862 even before the original Royal Columbian Hospital was finished, the Board of Managers had to build a small separate building to house a couple of smallpox patients. There were, at different times, a number of separate isolation hospitals in different parts of the city such as Poplar Island and the area at 8th Street and 8th Avenue near the Douglas Road cemetery. They dealt primarily with smallpox, but patients with any communicable disease could have been cared for there.

In 1908 three isolation cottages were added to the 1889 hospital building for patients with infectious diseases, including scarlet fever and tuberculosis. The 1912 hospital has an isolation ward as part of the main hospital rather than having a separate building for that purpose. However, by 1940 there was no isolation ward at all at RCH and patients had to be sent to Vancouver due to the lack of facilities in New Westminster. Ald. W. Cook lobbied in November 1940 for the Dominion government to contribute toward an isolation ward at least for the army cases in the military wing.

In 1943, the scarlet fever isolation building was renovated and brought back into service. The interior of the building was redecorated, the electric wiring system overhauled, the exterior painted and extra fire escapes added. By the 1960s, there was an isolation ward on the ground floor toward the rear of the old 1912 section of the hospital.

In 1964 an 18-year old young man suffering an infectious disease was admitted to that isolation ward. Thinking back to that time, he now has only vague impressions of the admission process, or the ward outside his room. During the first 24 hours, he was too ill to pay much attention to what was happening, but as he began to feel better, he wondered what was happening outside his room in the general ward. He could hear muffled voices, a child crying, the rattle of equipment, but not much else. Finally the day came that the nurses told him that he had visitors. Some school chums had come to see him, but visiting a patient in isolation wasn’t like seeing any other patient. The patient sat in his room in front of the open window, while his friends or family sat or stood outside on the other side of a wire fence. This way they could see and hear each other without any possibility of transmission of the disease. The system worked well during the summer months, but when it was rainy or cold and snowy it had some pretty obvious problems.

Visiting patients in the isolation ward of Royal Columbian hospital can be an uncomfortable ordeal. To prevent contact with patients with infectious or contagious diseases, visitors are kept outside the building and away from the windows by a wire fence. Among new facilities included in current plans for expansion of the hospital is a new isolation ward with an indoor visiting room. Source: The Columbian Oct 29, 1964

Today, technology makes everything different. Patients in isolation now can still be in constant touch with the outside world via TV, internet, email, etc. – things we all take for granted. But back in 1964, it was an exciting step in his recovery when our 18-year-old patient was told he could have his transistor radio brought in as long as it was in a plastic case that could be properly cleaned, and not a leather case. The disposable earphones provided by the hospital weren’t as good as his own, but now he could listen to the hit parade, his favourite programs, and the news and begin to feel once more part of the world outside the hospital walls. Anything else (books, paper, pens etc.) that was brought in for him had to be destroyed when he was discharged so that there was no chance of “taking the disease out” with him when he returned home.

Today there are isolation beds right in the middle of intensive care wards – the barrier now being differences in air pressure rather than solid walls and wire fences, but the concept remains the same. Give the best care possible to the ill patient, while protecting the general population from whatever has caused the disease.

“Space-Age Equipment” In 1969 Trauma Unit Will Save 20 More Lives A Year

October 3, 2012

From The Columbian, June 25, 1969
Photos by Basil King

Gain: 20 Lives a Year

More than three years of fund-raising, planning and construction to create a sophisticated trauma unit at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster have ended with the installation and activation of the space-age equipment pictured on this page.

With head nurse Penny Saunders as “patient” assistant technical supervisor Keith Putland is positioning an X-ray viewer machine designed for tracing damage to blood vessels and veins. Doctors watch in view screens like the one at right, and can record on video tape or film. Brain damage is charted on units which are positioned beside and beneath the patient’s head, while harmless dye is injected into the blood stream. The machine Putland is holding revolved a quarter circle for vertical, horizontal or diagonal views.

Movie films from machine above are processed in this developer being operated by student technician Barbara Berry, left and technician Marnie Whittaker.

Sparked by a $100,000 donation from the P.A. Woodward Foundation, pushed along with an equal amount in business donations and topped off with a matching government grant, the $400,000 treatment unit is designed to give immediate diagnosis and speedy treatment to the hundreds of patients brought to Royal Columbian each year from the scene of bloody industrial and highway accidents.

Head nurse Saunders, in her own working realm, is demonstrating on a dummy some of the life-saving procedures available to her. Dummy has a head injury. Tracheotomy tube is used to assist breathing, heart monitor is strapped to the chest. A stomach wound is bandaged. Bed is equipped with traction bars for fractured bones, electronic heart monitor on wall, built-in oxygen and vacuum outlets and intense lighting. Behind nurse Saunders is glass-walled isolation room which can be kept sterile and the air maintained at positive or negative pressure.

Staff doctors who pressed the campaign to raise funds and find space in the crowded old hospital estimate that the new facilities will enable them to save 20 lives each year which would otherwise be lost because of serious injuries.

The unit has two parts – a four-bed intense care ward with every available nursing aid built in for instant use – including electronic heart and blood monitoring and a sterile-air room for burn victims, and a special procedure area with some of the world’s most advanced X-ray devices for observing and recording pictures of damaged internal functions.

Rotating X-ray machine being operated by technical supervisor Harry Oancia with assistant head nurse Pat McGuire as “patient” prints half-circle view of head bones in one flat film, and was developed by a dentist. One three-second exposure gives better picture than many films by other techniques. Semi-circular film holder at Oancia’s left hand swings in front of patient’s face when machine is operated.

These pictures were taken during a “dry run” of the trauma unit on Monday. When it is declared operational next week, following opening ceremonies today, the patient ward will be staffed on three shifts by 19 nurses and a supervisor who will also look after the hospital’s other five-bed intense care ward, and the X-ray rooms may have a dozen or more doctors, nurses and technicians working to pinpoint injuries in time to treat them while there is still time.

First Intensive Care Unit at Royal Columbian Hospital

September 26, 2012

A brand new concept in medical treatment began at RCH in February of 1965 – intensive care. It’s hard to think of a hospital without an ICU today, but it was a very innovative concept in the mid-sixties. The 5-bed ward, staffed by 2 nurses, with a central ‘command’ post and specialized equipment, was full even before its official opening.

The following article and photograph appeared in The Columbian February 3, 1965.

‘Command Post’ in Hospital Seen as New Life-Saver
by Sydney Orpwood, Columbian Staff Reporter

The critically ill at Royal Columbian hospital are now being speeded on their way to recovery by a new program of intensive nursing. It started this week when a five-bed ward, renovated and equipped for special care, was put into use.

Lives of many patients, which would have been lost a decade ago, can now be saved through the use of special facilities and skills assembled in the new ward. And others who would formerly spend long weary weeks recovering from illness or injury can now be returned to their homes and families much sooner.

The new ward was created through the determination and ingenuity of the medical, nursing and administrative staff at Royal Columbian. “It’s not perfect,” they are quick to say. But each gives the others credit for finding space for the new unit in the crowded conditions at the hospital; for solving the difficult engineering problems in the physical renovations; for visualizing the need and scope of the specialized care, and for providing the human skill and compassion which make it work.

Physically, they started with a six-bed ward in the 1950 wing of the hospital, and re-planned the floor space for five beds. New oxygen and vacuum pipes were snaked through the walls of the building, with outlets at the head of each bed space. A dozen new electrical plug-ins were installed. Garment closets were ripped out, and storage cupboards took their place, to hold a handy supply of all the articles normally needed in a sick room. A command post was added, with desks, telephone, chart space, and one important extra item – an alarm button to summon aid in an emergency.

Visitors from other hospitals and a reporter-photographer team from The Columbian were ushered for a preview of the new ward Tuesday, and found it already in full use. All beds were occupied, and two patients had already made rapid recovery from an illness and an operation through the intense care, and were ready to be moved to standard wards.

Special equipment covered much of the floor space, between the beds and under them. An apparatus manufacturer was demonstrating a continuous cardiac monitor, which the hospital will buy within a week or two.

Getting intense nursing care in a new ward at Royal Columbian hospital is Ian MacFarlene, recovering well from a heart operation. Nurse Beverley Botter is one of six who rotate, two at a time, in the five-bed ward. Equipment is concentrated here, and more is being ordered.
From The Columbian Feb 3, 1965

Recent publicity over intense care wards in U.S. hospitals describes a central monitoring device which can be switched by the nurse from one patient to another. “We don’t care for this type,” a Royal Columbian staffer said. “We prefer individual units. This is the concept we have of intense care – that each patient should be watched every minute of the day and night. We intend, as the need grows, and the money is available, to have more than one individual monitor.”

The ward is staffed by two graduate nurses at all times. Supplies are at hand; they are in communication with the central chart room by telephone; they have their own washroom. Everything has been arranged so there is no need for them to leave their patients at any time. Nurses who will staff the ward volunteered for the work, and were given courses on the special care and the new equipment they will use. Others will be trained, so their duty may rotate.

Doctors who planned four years to see the ward come into existence praise them. “The dedication and skill of these girls is outstanding,” one said Tuesday. “They are the principal reason we are able to take better care of our patients – save more lives, and send them home sooner.”

First RCH Nursing Grad – Ethel S Cunningham

August 1, 2012

On June 19, 1903, the first graduate of the Royal Columbian Hospital School of Nursing received her diploma and pin. Ethel Sophia Cunningham graduated ahead of others in that first class because of the training she had received at Women’s Hospital before it amalgamated with RCH in 1901.

Ethel Cunningham’s RCH grad pin from 1903
(note the lacrosse sticks at the top)

Ethel’s family was greatly involved in the development of New Westminster and of the province. Her father Thomas and his brother James Cunningham married twin sisters, Emily and Mary Ann Woodman. Thomas was a member of the provincial assembly and of the New Westminster Municipal Council for two terms, while James was a Member of Parliament as well as serving as Municipal Councillor and Mayor. He was President of the Board of Directors of the RCH at the time his niece, Ethel, graduated and his signature appears on her certificate.

While Thomas ran several businesses at various times in New Westminster, Nanaimo, and in Oregon, his first and abiding love was horticulture. He took first prize for fruit growing over all Canada and in 1900 was named provincial horticulturalist. He and Emily then moved to Vancouver where they spent the rest of their lives.

Ethel, born in 1876 in Salem, Oregon, had five brothers and one sister. Two of her older brothers, Henry and Thomas, became doctors, graduating together from Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons, in 1895. Another brother, James Alexander “Alex”, took over the Cunningham Hardware business and ran it successfully for years.

Emily Mary, who remained single, lived with her parents, first in Oregon, then in New Westminster and finally in Vancouver. She worked as a stenographer for Canada Permanent Mortgage in Vancouver for at least 20 years before moving back to Oregon after her parents’ deaths.

Ethel moved to New Westminster from Oregon at age 17, with her parents and some of her siblings. She worked at the then-called Provincial Insane Asylum in New Westminster for two or three years before working at the Women’s Hospital on Third Avenue. There she received the training that allowed her to graduate ahead of others in her class at RCH. She described that experience years later in a letter to a graduating class, “My training in the Women’s Hospital (Homes 1 and 2) was quite good. Many obstetrical cases and gyn operations, etc. In fact, the V.G.H. sent some of their nurses over for their obstetrical training for a while…We had lectures and exams and (the doctors) were never too hurried or impatient to explain operations and treatments. Our methods were primitive according to present standards but we had good experience in meeting emergencies with what we had on hand – invaluable for private or country nursing.”

Ethel Cunningham at RCH

Immediately after graduating, she accepted a position as surgical nurse at RCH and stayed there for several years. In that same letter she explains her next move. “As I was anxious to know more about modern methods and hospital management, I took a post-graduate course in the General Memorial Hospital in New York (now N.Y. Cancer Hospital). There the work was strictly surgical so I had a splendid opportunity to obtain a thorough training in techniques under some outstanding surgeons. The hours were long and the training hard, but I enjoyed it thoroughly and I might say that never did I feel in any way my training was inferior to other nurses from large hospitals who had come there for special training. After graduation I was asked to stay on the staff as First Assistant in Surgery, which I was very happy to accept. The experience and responsibility were invaluable to me. I had several other good positions offered to me but owing to my father’s illness and his great desire to have me home, I returned to B.C.”

Ethel is listed in the 1911 directory at the home of her parents and sister at 634 7th Avenue in Vancouver as a nurse. But the annual directories from 1912 tell a story that is surprising to say the least. From 1912 until 1931, Ethel Sophia Cunningham with an unusual degree of nursing training and experience for a young woman of her time, worked as a stenographer for the City of Vancouver. There is no indication that she ever returned to her career in nursing. Like her sister, Ethel remained single and lived with her parents until their deaths. In 1932 she moved to Ashland in Oregon, where she died in April of 1958. Eight months later, Emily Mary also died in Ashland.

Why did Ethel and Emily Mary move back to Oregon after so many years in BC? Why did they go to Ashland rather than Salem where they had lived earlier? What did they do for the twenty years there? Why did Ethel leave nursing after devoting so much effort to that career? We don’t know, but we’re still looking for answers. If we find them, you’ll find them here – keep watching.

RCH Angels of Mercy in World War I

July 12, 2012

Canada’s nursing sisters played a vital role in the care of wounded soldiers during World War I. Given the rank of lieutenant, they were an integral part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), the majority working overseas in military hospitals and in casualty clearing stations. Often placed on the front-line, they tended to injuries for which no one could have trained them, and they were seen as ‘angels of mercy’ by the soldiers whose lives they saved.

A total of 3,141 Canadian nurses volunteered their services during the Great War of 1914-1918. During the war these nurses cared for almost 540,000 soldiers. At first, the medical units were set up in hospitals away from the action. Eventually however, Casualty Clearing Stations were set up close to the front lines. It was to these stations that the ambulances delivered the injured, who received early assessment and, as a result, got faster and more effective treatment. The nurses were nicknamed “Bluebirds” by soldiers, grateful for a glimpse of their blue dresses, white aprons and sheer white veils.

No 1 Canadian General Hospital Nursing Sisters’ Theme Song

In my sweet little Alice Blue gown,
When I first came to Birmingham town.
I had had a bad trip, in a nasty old ship
And the cold in my billet, just gave me the pip.
We came out to nurse our own troops,
But were greeted with measles and whoops.
Now I’ll be a granny, and sit on my fanny,
And keep warm with turpentine stupes.

In my sweet little Alice Blue gown,
When I return to my home town
They will bring out the band, give the girls a big hand,
Being a nurse in the force, I’ll be quite renowned.
And I’ll never forget all the fun,
That I had, since I joined Number One
I was happy and gay, to have served with MacRae
In my sweet little Alice Blue gown.

Six graduates and four who had previously been on staff at Royal Columbian Hospital became Nursing Sisters in WWI: Lillian McCallum, Arlie Werden, Olive Reichenbach, Eleanor Bishop, Jean McRae, Bella Reid, Elizabeth LeRoy, Isabel Lord, Jessie T. Scott, and Charlotte (Scharley) Wright Brown.

Lillian McCallum served at the No.5 Canadian General Hospital in Salonika, Greece. Both No. 4 and No. 5 tent hospitals were established at the request of the British Army medical director during a desperate shortage of medical units for the Eastern Front.

Nursing Sisters’ quarters at No. 5 Canadian General Hospital, Salonica, spring, 1916.
Sisters Heaney, left, and Morrison. (

Olive (Ollie) Reichenbach served on the Western Front, chiefly in France, though she missed being decorated when honours were awarded. She was on the Ypres salient and had several narrow escapes during the bombing of hospital areas in Etaples as well as at Ramsgate.

Westcliffe Eye and Ear Hospital at Folkestone, England

Jessie T Scott, former Superintendent of the Royal Columbian Hospital, was in charge of the Westcliffe Eye and Ear Hospital at Folkestone, on staff of No. 2 General at Moore Barracks, Shorncliffe and was second in command at the Duchess of Connaught Hospital at Taplow. For her work, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross.

What was their work like? It differed greatly depending on where they were, but it was unlike anything they had known or been trained for. “During an offensive, a dressing station close to the line of fire might be completely overwhelmed. Under cover of night, trucks filled with muddy wounded soldiers would be unloaded and handed over to the nurses, who, between stretchers crammed together or beside soldiers lying on the ground, had to try to staunch hemorrhages, set bones, and ensure the survival of their patients until they were transported farther behind the lines to receive appropriate care. The daily work of the nurses in units farther from the front was just as laborious. Climatic conditions and life in the trenches favoured the outbreak of epidemics, so many beds were occupied by soldiers suffering from infectious diseases, which in fact accounted for almost 70 percent of cases admitted to hospital.” (

Nursing Sisters were acclaimed as war heroines at the time of demobilization. In the years following World War I, their contribution to the Canadian war effort and to the nursing profession was publicly commemorated by the erection of a monument in Parliament in honour of all Canadian nurses. The Nursing Sisters’ Memorial is located in the Hall of Honour in the centre block on Parliament Hill. The sculptor, G.W. Hill, R.C.A., of Montréal, did his work in Italy, and found a beautiful piece of marble from the Carara quarries. The completed panel was mounted in the Hall of Honour during the summer of 1926.

Nursing Sisters Memorial Panel in Hall of Honour, Parliament Hill

Rules for Class Room

June 14, 2012

The following rules were framed and hung on the wall in the RCH Nursing School.

Royal Columbian Hospital Nursing Class of 1906


1. Students are required to attend all lectures and classes in full uniform.

2. Must be in Lecture Room promptly at 3 minutes before appointed hour.

3. Seniors of class are to sit in front chairs and all take places in order of Roll Call.

4. Quietness must be observed after Roll Call – No loud talking or laughing.

5. Must pay strict attention to lecture with no conversation between Students.

6. Must sit erect in chair – no slouching.

7. Students will be excused from attending lectures or classes only on account of illness, or by permission of Superintendent of Nurses.

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