Margaret Cooper

Margaret Cooper

Margaret Cooper
Toowoomba, Australia

Tell us a little about your training.

I commenced general nurse training at Toowoomba Base hospital on 8 January 1968.
I had not considered nursing as a career until  a girl in the small town in which I lived began nursing and, each time her mother came into the post office where I worked as a telephonist, spoke proudly about Rosemary and what she was doing.  I listened and thought that if Rosemary could do it so could I.I started in a group of 16 girls.  We have remained friends and in contact for all these 52 years with occasional reunions.  reunions are fun as we all return to the 17 year olds who first met.


What things are different now in training you would like to see brought back?

The obvious difference is tertiary training compared with our apprentice based hospital training.
University is the right place for nurse training in this complex scientific training.  Most hospital trained nurses have gained post graduate degrees.

The clinical, patient contact time should be increased for student nurses.  The current system has them commencing work as a registered nurse without the ideal amount of patient contact time.

Initially, after nursing went into university in Queensland, there was an organised ‘graduate nurse program’.  This saw newly registered nurses entering the profession in hospitals with a one year appointment to a heath service.  These nurses were given a range of experiences in various speciality areas and were supported with a program of professional development was available to assist each nurse to consolidate the theoretical knowledge and gain  necessary skills.  These positions no longer exist.  From memory, this is because the union stated that it was unfair to give temporary, one year positions.  Once appointments had to be permanent there was no position for future graduate nurses.  This has resulted in many people completing their nursing degree and not being able to gain a position.  What a waste!!

What things in training are you glad student no longer have to endure?

I find it hard to identify things we needed to ‘endure’.  Many things are outmoded, such as steam sterilisation in ward areas. sharpening hypodermic needles, rolling cotton swabs, cutting combine dressings, rolling used and washed crepe bandages.
The strict hierarchical system was the accepted norm but prevented those lower in the hierarchy from raising problems which were not obvious to those above them.  Taking ‘Doctors order’ without question can and did lead to errors and ‘near misses’.

Tell us where you worked after you finished training. 

After general training, I went to Mater Misericordia Mothers Hospital in Brisbane and completed my midwifery training.  I relinquished my midwifery certificate in about 2010 because I was planning on working in remote nursing and I did not want to be seen as an expert when I had not continuously worked in midwifery.
After mid, I returned to Toowoomba and worked there for the next 20 plus years in various positions in wards, casualty (now know as ED).  I then found myself in management rolls.  I had not considered management but, in those days the Matron could tap you on the shoulder.  No need to advertising, Key selection criteria or selection panels. It was a difficult decision as ‘management’ and managers were not popular but, I decided that it is only possible to change from within so I decided to give it a go.  I stayed for several years with limited success  but lots of experiences.  It was then that I decided to ‘go bush’ as Director of Nursing in a mall rural hospital.
I remember this in my first letter back to staff in Toowoomba, I wrote “Here I am in ……..  The job I applied for was Director of nursing.  The sign over the office door says Nursing Superintendent and everybody in this town calls me “Matron.”  It was quite shocking to me as a 40 year old to be a matron.

After about twelve years in various positions in rural hospitals, I jumped ship and began working as a Remote Area Nurse in Northern Territory.  I have now been working in relief positions for the past ten years.  Great experiences and get to experience amazing parts of  our beautiful country.  I am currently serving 14 days isolation in Darwin before travelling to Elcho Island to work.

What is the most rewarding thing about your role?

I think I am like most nurses in saying that the most rewarding aspect of nursing is being there to support people during stressful and challenging times for themselves and their family.
I have also had the opportunity to work in rural and remote areas of Australia and have had many wonderful experiences.

One of your fondest memories.  

Graduation among my ‘training group’ was exciting.  Many of these and still close friends.  We still have each other back’ after these many years.

Memories of patients include being with a lady in a rural hospital as she died.  Her daughter was in Brisbane and had booked a flight to our small town but it was fairly obvious that she would not get there in time.  I was able to hold the phone to her mother’s ear while she spoke to her and to tell her daughter that her mother was smiling and nodding slightly.  This seems like common sense but it was huge for the family and thinking about that day still brings tears to my eyes.

Another lovely thing that happened was in another rural town where I was relieving in a management position for a short time.  One of the nurses came to me one day to say that her husband had heard I was at the hospital and he told her that Melanie (who has also a story in this project) and I had saved his life some 40 years before.  He had been a teenager diagnosed with type 1 diabetes which places huge restrictions on diet and lifestyle.
Many young people rebel by ignoring the requirements which results in frequent admissions to hospital and has long term effects for future health and can lead to other disease processes such as renal disease.
I did not remember this young man specifically but it was lovely to hear that our encouragement and continuous education and support had made a difference in the life of this young man and his future family.

Tell us about any funny stories.  

I am challenged to remember a ‘funny’ story to be honest but my entire nursing career has been fun.
One event from many years ago comes to mind:
I was working in a regional hospital and, on this day, was visiting the city hospital for some reason.  I was in the lift with a colleague and we were talking about the recent Christmas.  A  well known professional from our hospital came up in conversation and I was saying ” He came to the hospital dining room for Christmas lunch and filled his plate with peas and nothing else.”  As I was speaking, the lift doors opened, and well dressed man entered the lift, turned to face front as per proper ‘lift’ behaviour and said “You would be from Toowoomba Sister.”
It was a funny moment.

What is the most dreaded activity you have had to undertake?  

I dislike computers and hate having to learn new systems as I am a technophobe.  Most of my peers from training days have retired and I will soon join them as  I am approaching the ‘at risk age’ for COVID19 and the workplace is increasingly computerised.

What is the best invention in your career?    

I can tell you that I am a technophobe and do not enjoy technology.  However, the introduction of telehealth has been very useful for rural and remote communities.     This allows people to consult doctors and specialists from their home town.  Some diagnostic tools allow remote practitioners to do some tests which assist with diagnosis and treatment.
Computer based patient records are also useful providing they are able to link with previous patient records.

What do you wish they would invent to make tasks easier?

I would like a time machine so I could turn back my age and continue working indefinitely but, that is not to be so it will soon be time to retire.  I do not see that as something to look forward to.



We would love to hear your story. Not matter how short or how long your journey in nursing & midwifery is. We would love to hear from ALL different types of nurses, dental nurses, veterinary nurses, school nurses……from all over the world. Please help add to our online exhibition. This exhibition runs until the end of 2020.

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