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Nurses’ voices: St George’s Hospital

St Georges nurses 1916

Documents and photographs can only tell so much of the story of a hospital. An oral history approach enriches that story by capturing the living history of St George’s, in this case through the memories of its nurses.

The project was initiated by Kath Start, then Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, in collaboration with the St George’s Hospital League of Nurses. With initial funding from the St George’s Hospital Charity, project manager Carol McCubbin was appointed to capture what it was like to be a nurse in a large hospital during the period 1930-1990.

The project set out to specifically provide an account of the developments and changes within nursing and to produce a collective narrative of this historic institution viewed through the memories of those who had worked there.

Interviews were conducted with individuals who trained or worked (or are still working) as nurses or midwives at St George’s, covering all aspects of the nursing experience from the early 1930s to the present day.

The project team worked closely with the St George’s Nurses’ League to recruit over a hundred volunteers to take part in the project. Volunteers were offered the opportunity to conduct interviews as well as be interviewed, with full training in oral history interviewing provided.

St Georges nurses 1958

The memories collected were as diverse as the introduction of the National Health Service, the impact of the move from Hyde Park Corner to Tooting, and the experience of being in charge of a ward at night for the first time. Memories of nurses’ social life (or lack of it), living conditions in hospital accommodation and the experience of the recruitment interview all helped to build a picture of what it was like to be a St George’s nurse. For example, did you know that in the early 1950s, the matron included the ability to play tennis in the list of attributes required of potential St George’s nurses?

The interviews equally chronicle nurses’ roles in the development and practice of medical innovations such as the introduction of antibiotics, early cardiac pacemakers and brain scans.

‘Nurses’ Voices, Memories of Nursing at St George’s London (1930-1990)’

A book containing extracts from the project’s findings was published in April 2010. The themes covered in the book include:

  • Becoming a nurse
  • Nurse education
  • Nurses’ uniforms
  • Life on the wards
  • Social life and celebrations
  • Influential nurses
  • War, disasters and epidemics
  • Clinical practice and medical innovations
  • From Hyde Park to Tooting

Nurses Voices book cover

A summary of historical facts pertinent to each theme provides a foreword to each chapter. Alongside the oral history extracts are photographs and documents donated to the project. The book also comes with an audio CD of interview extracts not included in the text of the book.

 

“A must have book for everyone interested in the visual and oral history of nursing” Nursing Standard, November 2010

A brief history of St George’s

St Georges hospital hyde park

St George’s is one of the oldest hospitals in London. Founded in 1733, it was based for 250 years at Lanesborough House, now the Lanesborough Hotel, on Hyde Park Corner. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, St George’s established itself as a leading teaching hospital, and the first lecture in its new Medical School was given in 1803.

As the decades went by and demand for more beds, more staff and more space grew, it became clear that St George’s needed to find a new site. The site in Tooting was chosen in 1950. Services grew slowly on the new site, but it was not until 1973 that the building of St George’s as we now know it began.

In 1996 the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education was established as a joint venture between St George’s Hospital Medical School (now renamed St George’s, University of London) and Kingston University. St George’s is unique in London in that it has retained both its schools of medicine and nursing within an integrated site.