Student Nurse Life in Early 1970s

I attended and graduated from Greenville (SC) General Hospital School of Nursing in 1972. This school was one of the last three year diploma schools. Three year schools are now obsolete with two year nursing schools, which offer an associates degree and four year schools in colleges and universities which offer training for andRN diploma and a Bachelor of Science degree.

At the time I felt the three year diploma was wonderful because it gave a lot more patient care experience than either of the other options. But now many hospitals are encouraging nurses to get their Bachelor’s degrees if they haven’t already or preferring to hire nurses with one. Associate degrees in Nursing seem to give one what they need in a shorter amount of time.

Me, student nurse about in 1970
Me as a freshman at Greenville General Hospital School of Nursing

My class had students from all over the state of South Carolina. We were from different backgrounds with different religions and motivations to become nurses. We were from ages approximately late teens, to early twenties to 35. One or two were married students in my class.

Most of us lived in the dorm next to the hospital and ate many meals in the hospital cafeteria. There was a kitchen on each floor of the dorm. Many of us had popcorn poppers or some other way to heat up food in our dorms to save money by eating in. I think microwave ovens were not allowed in the rooms, because of aging wiring systems that could be overloaded.

Each room had two single beds, a window or two, a shelf for books, and a chest of drawers or some kind of storage for our clothes, a desk and a closet for each student. It was comfortable enough.

Each year every new student freshmen was “adopted” by a “Big Sister” junior student who provided guidance, support, friendship and advice for the “Little Sisters.”

In the early 1970’s students attended basic classes including Anatomy and Physiology, Psychology I and II, Nutrition, Growth and Development, Microbiology, Chemistry I and II at Furman University for the first year and a half(?). We also had Sociology taught in the dorm building down stairs. We rode a bus to Furman University about three or four days a week. We all enjoyed singing on the long trip there in the mornings and back about lunch time.

Our student uniforms were navy blue, smart looking and thankfully permanent press!! Our shoes had to be clean, white and polished every day. Just like in the old days students had to have short hair or wear it up off of their collars. No fingernail polish was allowed.

Caps are worn less and less after graduation due to the danger of catching it on IV or monitor lines. The cap was held in place with bobby pins. So it was not that rare for the cap to lose its position on our heads, skewing our hair causing an unprofessional look. These events cost the nurse time to go to the bathroom and fix the cap back in place.

Sometime after the first two semesters of college classes, we received training in Nursing Fundamentals I and II. We learned how to bathe patients by bathing another student nurse! We were definitely motivated to provide them with coverage while we washed them.

Making the bed was an art form. We didn’t use fitted sheets because they could rotate as top or bottom sheets and lasted longer. But our instructor was strict about the neatness and tightness of the way the sheets (both top and bottom) were tucked in. When my mother was in training they were taught that the sheets had to be tight enought to bounce a dime on them! They had to practice until they could.

We also learned how to start literally an IV needle. We could use only butterfly needles, because I guess the needles were shorter. You may have seen a butterfly needle used by a laboratory technician to draw a blood. I remember a rubberized arm with veins that we could practice starting intravenous needles on. But to me the later teflon coated intravenous catheters were much less dangerous for long term use because of their flexiblity. We also had to practice intradermal injections like the kind they used to use for tuberculosis testing.

Then we had quarterly changes in different fields of nursing. My first quarter, I believe was psychiatric nursing. We stayed in a dorm at the old state mental hospital in Columbia, South Carolina This was a fascinating time to me. I enjoyed learning more about people and knew psychiatric training would make me a better, more compassionate nurse.

The Surgical quarter was divided: 6 weeks in surgery and the second 6 weeks was Recovery Room. I don’t remember any special experiences from the last quarter. I do remember that our instructor during the first part of the Surgical training was an older nurse, probably trained in the 1940’s. She was tough but likable. We had to put on sterile gloves over and over until we mastered not letting the cuff roll up under the glove, which contaminated them. We all practiced many times before we got that right.

While in the surgical rotation I observed several surgeries. Our training on how to put on sterile gown and gloves came in handy when we had to learn how to help gown and glove the surgeon and how to assist the doctor.

After putting a cap over my hair; donning a surgical mask; washing my hands and forearms for a full five minutes; then with sterile technique being gowned and gloved by another person; I was ready to observe and later assist a surgeon or two.

Among my surgical experiences I held a retractor for a surgeon doing a hip replacement. I saw several cataract surgeries, (not the new procedures), and others that I don’t recall.

The Obstetrics rotation was much more fun. I got to observe a Cesarean Section delivery and took care of babies in the newborn nursery. Taking care of the babies was fun, as well as teaching the mothers about post-partum care, breast feeding and infant care. My first care study was a fellow student from high school!

One newborn caused us some anxiety when he was born with ears that were very low on the sides of his head, which even concerned the pediatrician. But then we saw the father, and knew the baby would be normal. His ears were lower on the sides of his head too.

I saw a Caeserian delivery which was amazing. One of the babies born was a breech delivery (bottom first). When the poor little guy was cleaned up and placed on the baby bed, his hips remained bent so his legs stayed pointed up towards his head.

The Pediatrics quarter was the hardest for me. I hated seeing little children having pain. But the knowledge and experience I had there were always helpful wherever I worked in the future.

I treasure these memories and so many more from my experiences in nursing school and the unique training I was given to give the very best bedside nursing that I could. See this link for more about nursing back then. https://joyful2bhttps://joyful2beeblogs.com/2021/04/23/nursing-back-thenpart-1/

Nurse's cap and cape from GGH.
My graduate nurse photo in 1972.


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