Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fine Dining Hospital Nursing School Style

Oh..The tales that were told during mandatory dinner hour.
Vintage  hospital diploma schools were hybrid affairs: one part workhouse, one part charm school, and one part plantation. The charm school component made attendance mandatory  for the evening meal in the hospital cafeteria if you happened to be fortunate enough to work  on a clinical unit during the 3-11:30 shift. Sharing a meal together was probably  thought to have a positive  social impact on  hospital confined and culturally deprived nursing students

The nursing school had commandeered a long table in the very back of the chow hall. A sense of decorum was added to the ho hum environment by the use of genuine china dinner plates emblazoned with "IMMC School of Nursing  Dedicated to the Service of Mankind."  Another unique touch was the  disbursement of several bottles of Red Hot Sauce prominently displayed as a centerpiece.

Nursing students were undernourished in social experiences and overfed on shame and degradation  dished out by mean old coots masquerading as instructors. The fine china and special sauce adornment was a lame attempt to mitigate the harsh realities of life as a nursing student and spice things up a bit.

Working with the most challenging patients was difficult enough, but our tough minded, anal retentive instructors demanded strict self-regulation of our behavior. There was no crying, complaining, or lamentations of any sort permitted. We always answered to our hard core instructors in plantation speak, "Yes'um, No madame, and Right away," were stock replies.

So when we all sat down together for dinner, it felt as though a weight had been lifted off our shoulders. Typical dinner table conversation revolved around difficult nursing procedures and technical tips for their  successful completion. Occasionally the various foodstuffs were used as props. I will never forget the time my friend, Janess, demonstrated her prowess at removing fecal impactions by using a stale donut leftover from breakfast and an overcooked chunk of bratwurst. The key was to bury your finger well into the brat and the flex the distal phalanx into a hook like device before pulling it  through the donut.

Being the sole male at the dinner table had it's awkward moments when I was called to mediate arguments about boyfriends or menstrual cycles. Although I may have been a disinterested party my knowledge base was not up to snuff and led to lots of round about jibber jabber.

Our final dinner together as student nurses was held outside the hospital at a really nice nearby restaurant, The Ivanhoe, which was just down the street between Clark and Halsted.  The senior dinner held right before we were crowned GNs was memorable because or instructors were finally nice to us because we survived and were on our way to becoming peers. I made up my mind then and there that I was never going to treat anyone as we were treated as students.


  1. Brings back fond memories of us all sitting at a long oblong table just like in the picture - all of us in full uniform - and the days when I could only eat a bread roll because it was offal for breakfast, offal for lunch and offal for dinner - none of which I could face eating. (The hospital food for nurses was revolting back then). The nurses in that pic look much happier than I must have that day...

    And how we envied the qualified elite nursing Sisters who sat at round tables decorated with vases of flowers - and the physiotherapists who had not just flowers but also a bowl of fruit on their table - which we found profoundly unfair.

    Sitting at the oblong table was a constant reminder of our lowly position in the hospital hierarchy!

    Not to forget the terrifying woman who dished out the meals - everything she did was conducted at full scream.

    Ah those were the days... Cheers from Sue (have moved to an area of four seasons but all of them drought and bushfires at the moment!)

  2. I love experiencing the variety of four season too and as the days grow shorter and the chill descends maybe I'll feel more like blogging. The dense morning fog we have now mirrors my foggy thoughts.

    I think the communal dining was seen as a way to confirm and reinforce our common values and aspirations. The conversation was devoid of talk about remuneration or financial gain which seems to predominate contemporary health care. Any mention of earning potential or money would have gotten us immediately thrown out as "unsuited for the practice of professional nursing."

    1. We were all pretty happy with our pay as we got board and lodgings and uniforms supplied, laundered and ironed for us, meals etc etc. It was pathetic pay but we were housed and fed and clothed at very small cost - and no college fees to pay! So we didn't talk about pay much - and we didn't do it for that anyway back then.

      Yes it give you a feeling of belonging to the group by sitting at the same table and swapping horror stories, experiences and tips on which Sisters were OK and which ones to look out for...

      We have a terrible drought throughout Australia and it's terrible here - we're nearly out of drinking water. The beautiful hills that used to be green are just dust. But yes, I am looking forward to Autumn as I haven't seen a proper Autumn in a few years now - I always loved that season (Fall to you in the US I guess!) Sue.

  3. Our nursing program was overly diligent with providing housing, meals, books, uniforms, and even maid service. The overriding message was that if we followed all the regulations and worked as ordered in the hospital all of our needs would be met. Students even referred to the school as "Mother." Money was a big no-no and we were not supposed to have possession of it while in school.

    Nursing school provided a valuable lesson that money can only provide so much and other values like caring for others and putting their needs first was what really mattered. Any student thinking of self care would have been promptly shown the door.

  4. So true OFRN - I look back now and realize that many of the older Sisters (often the ones who gave us a hard time as students!) were single women who, while they worked long and hard, at least were supplied with secure accommodation, meals etc.

    Today after working for years on low wages those women would find it very hard to find affordable safe accommodation - it isn't provided by the hospitals any more.

    In many ways the old system of "living in" provided security for women like these who had nursed all their lives and were at least guaranteed respect and a roof over their heads, at a time when being an unmarried older woman was not easy.

    I look back older and wiser and realize that much of their harshness towards us was due to difficult lives - hard work, lack of respectability as unmarried older women, not much money etc etc. When you are young you don't understand these things! I do now. Sue.

    1. Yes indeed, aging promotes a different perspective and occasions like dining seemed mundane, but there was nothing like gathering around the hospital dinner table on a bitter cold Chicago night with fellow students whose only thoughts were helping sick folks.

      Modern hospital culture with it's obsession with technology and finances makes me feel restless as though I'm in the wrong place - a parallel universe that makes little sense. It's so easy to feel homesick for the old places and kindly ways. That old picture above this post reminds me of home. What a wonderful memory to cherish.

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