Sandy Willis’ connection to The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) started almost from birth after she was born with a number of different congenital abnormalities. Sandy spent a lot of time at the RCH, commencing at the Carlton site.
“I was a patient in the old hospital in Rathdowne Street, I remember that very well. I remember the lack of visiting hours … my mother used to come up every day and she used to stand outside the fence because I was in Ward 9, and she used to wave to me because she was only allowed to come in two afternoons a week which I think were Wednesday and Saturday, but she used to stand and wave to me.”
After spending significant periods of her childhood as a patient in the hospital, it is perhaps no surprise that when she turned 18, Sandy wanted to train as a nurse. So in 1966, Sandy joined the Preliminary Training School (PTS) at the RCH. As a trainee she learned how to wash and feed children, use needles, sterilise equipment, make beds and fold towels. Sandy recalls:
“Some of the sisters in some of the wards used to walk around with coins in the morning and drop a coin on the bed and it was supposed to bounce!”
One of Sandy’s biggest fears beginning nursing was that she would not be able to cope when children died. But as she quickly learned, living in the Nurses’ Home there was an informal system of debriefing and support that allowed trainees to share their thoughts and feelings after each shift.
Sandy’s training was interrupted by the birth of her first child. It was common in the 1960s and 1970s for nurses who married and had children to stay at home. But Sandy proved to be the exception:
“I was definitely the first person to come back here who was a mother. Everybody thought that was a little bit strange … they sort of frowned on married people a little bit. They put you on night duty because [they believed] you can only get pregnant at night – we used to laugh about that.”
Throughout her career Sandy witnessed many changes at the RCH – not just the three different buildings, but also changes to nursing practice and education. She became a clinical nurse educator and oversaw changes to patient care and the way parents were involved in the care of children. She also observed industrial changes to the working conditions and treatment of nurses in Victoria.
Looking back on almost a lifetime’s association with The Royal Children’s Hospital, Sandy has lots of memories and experiences to reflect on:
“I’ve always felt I’m proud that I had something to do with working here. I was proud to train staff that worked here. I just think it’s a great place.”
Listen to an audio extract from Sandy Willis’ 2019 oral history interview
Transcription of audio extract:
“I loved it. A lot of the adult trainees came here for six months, they used to say that we nurses thought that we were different and we were special. I can’t explain how it was for everybody else, but I loved worked here, and over time ended up coming back a long, long time. I liked working here, I liked working here. Everybody seemed to be here for the kids. There were a few egos around the place of course but everybody seemed to be here for the kids and everybody tried to make decisions based on what was best for that particular child, so I thought that was fantastic.”