Curated by: Sonya Jones
A Profession of Care: A History of Oshawa General Hospital’s School of Nursing
During this global pandemic, nurses are needed more than ever. They are essential workers in our health care system whose courage and dedication should be celebrated during normal times, let alone in the midst of the current crisis. Created in partnership with the Oshawa Public Libraries and the Oshawa Museum, this exhibition looks back at Oshawa’s history of training nurses, through the Oshawa General Hospital School of Nursing, to salute healthcare workers everywhere and celebrate their exceptional skills.The Oshawa General Hospital School of Nursing was established shortly after the first hospital building opened in 1910.
During this time, hospital-based nursing schools were opening across Canada. Demand was high for new nurses and the brochures advertising the schools would specifically target young women, often outlining requirements for entry such as, “women of superior education and culture.”
The three-year program at Oshawa General Hospital had its first three graduates in 1913, with the graduation ceremony held at the Oshawa High School (today O’Neill Collegiate & Vocational Institute), a tradition that continued for many years. Life in the early years of the training program was arduous—twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week, with four hours of free time on Sundays. Since there were no tuition fees, students were expected to fully integrate into hospital life, supporting doctors and patients around the clock. Beginning with classroom training, students would then get hands-on experience working alongside doctors and nurses with patients from various departments such as maternity, surgical and pediatric.
The first students’ residence was composed of a few small rooms in the attic of the hospital. Later, a residence was built at 47 Alexandra Street that had a capacity to house forty nursing students. The school grew in the 1920s, which led to the need to fundraise for an addition to the residence. A campaign in 1922, led by the Women’s Auxiliary, raised $15,000 to build 10 more rooms.
In the 1940s, enrollment continued to increase, and the school was in desperate need of more space. Colonel and Mrs. R.S. McLaughlin donated the funds to build a new nurses’ residence. In November of 1947, McLaughlin Hall opened and was described as being among the finest of its kind in Canada. It was also during this period that new educational requirements for enrollment were established, including Secondary School Diploma credits in mathematics and sciences.More renovations were needed in the 1960s to further accommodate the growing school. The basement of the Oshawa General Hospital, known as the “A Wing” became the new School of Nursing. In addition, the Minister of Health for Ontario changed all three-year nursing programs to two years in order to meet the demand for nursing professionals and began to experiment with standardized curriculum. Hospitals were reluctant to make changes to the programs as each hospital had individualized training programs, and were used to the reliable and inexpensive workers.
As healthcare technology advanced, nursing schools had to adapt. In 1973, the Ontario Government closed hospital-based nursing schools and shifted training to college or university-based programs. As a result of the changes, Oshawa General Hospital’s School of Nursing closed and the program was transferred to Durham College.
In its 60-year history, the Oshawa General Hospital School of Nursing had 1,198 graduates. Throughout the years, the school grew and evolved to keep up with the ever-changing healthcare system and contributed greatly to the community’s overall healthcare services. This exhibition celebrates our local history and is a small gesture to honour the incredible work our current healthcare workers do everyday.
“Student nurses are to be found everywhere, underneath, on top of, running around, jumping over or slithering past patients’ beds…” – Unknown, 1963 Year Book
Click on individual images to see an enlarged version.