Half a century of nursing: Margaret Miller looks back.
Half a century of nursing: Margaret Miller looks back.

50 years nursing

EACH year when her nursing registration form arrives in the mail with the standard question: “How much longer do you intend working?” – Margaret Miller ticks “another 12 months”.

The truth is, she is 68-years-young and still feels as passionate about working on the wards as she did when she started her nursing training half a century ago.

Her career began at Warwick Hospital and included stints as Allora’s matron, a decade with Blue Care and private work, before assuming her present role – regular night shifts at Akooramak’s Home for the Aged.

She admits she started working nights as a young mother to “fit around the kids” and has kept it up to “avoid workplace politics”.

“I moved into aged care so I could start getting the nursing home ready for when I have to go,” she added cheekily.

Genetically it may not be something she needs to consider anytime soon – her mother is 95 and still living at home alone.

Today Mrs Miller works alongside university-trained nursing graduates, whom she admits have more “book knowledge” then she’ll ever acquire.

But she laments the passing of on-the-job instruction where junior nurses became adept at observation and were made keenly aware of the hands-on nature of nursing.

“We didn’t have gloves when I started, unless of course patients were contagious,” she said. “You just washed the bedpans, changed the sheets, cleaned up the vomit and used a lot of soap and hot water.”

While nurses’ hands may have suffered, Mrs Miller said there were few illusions about the grittier side of their profession.

“Right from the start, you knew what nursing involved,” she said.

“I worry about some of these young ones who finish four years at uni and then struggle with the practicalities.

“Nursing was never about just handing out pills.

“It is about observation, observation, observation: being able to walk into a ward and know instinctively which patient is the sickest.

“It is not always the one making the most noise.”

For Mrs Miller, the best part has been making a difference and working with colleagues she can trust with her life.

“The toughest part is when someone young dies senselessly,” she said.

“A parent losing a child is tragic.

“Or telling someone, even if they are older, that their lifelong partner has died, because what is there to live for if you don’t have someone to love?”

On a professional level she juggled work and parenthood at a time when many mothers stayed home.

“My husband Peter was always incredibly supportive; you can’t do it alone,” Mrs Miller said.

“He looked after the kids so I could work, and I was always good at going without much sleep.”

She lists compassion and patience as two qualities a nurse can’t be without.

She honed the first from the beginning, by, loving people, losing her precious 11-year-old son to leukaemia and learning to read human behaviour.

As for patience, she says hers is a work in progress.

“I love nursing, I would never have done anything else,” Mrs Miller said.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to go to work each day dreading my job.”

For those starting out in her field of expertise she has simple advice: “There are no ‘what-ifs’.

“Sometimes patients die, even when you’ve tried hard.

“There is no point blaming God or kicking the cat or asking what if? or why? – because there are no answers.”

Sometimes patients die, even when you’ve tried hard...

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