Ann Pidgeon’s caring nature shone through as a little girl when she would knock on her neighbour’s doors, asking if they would like her to take their kids out for a walk. That natural kindness put her in good stead for a very successful 50-year career, nursing in hospitals from Invercargill to the Bay of Islands.
She completed her nursing studies at Southland Hospital in 1970 after living in the nursing home with stringent rules, “It was very different to how nurses train now. The ten eight hour shifts in a row were killers, but worth it to have four days off in a row. Although, were only allowed out one night a week until 1 am, two nights until 11 pm and if we were outside sitting with our boyfriend in a car, they would come and shine a torch in on us.”
The friends she made during those years still get together regularly and this year met up to celebrate their 50th anniversary in Hastings.
Ann loved surgical nursing during her training, but after graduating, she married and moved to Balclutha and worked as a practice nurse. GPs had only started receiving funding for these roles, so this was a relatively new concept. Part of her role was to visit patients at home, which sparked her inclination for caring for older people.
After having children, she took on a part-time job as a phlebotomist in the Balclutha doctor’s surgery, and recalls after taking blood and urine samples in the morning; she had to physically run the bags of samples to the train station to be sent by rail to Dunedin for testing.
A move to Wellington saw her working night duty in a residential care facility caring for elderly patients again, then on a long term medical ward at Hutt Hospital.
In 1986, she headed to Auckland and got a job at North Shore Hospital, then with Auckland DHB as an acute relief nurse. During this time she accepted a permanent position on one of the Assessment and Rehabilitation wards. Here her love for older people was truly cemented.
“In Gerontology, you have more opportunities to nurse holistically. You have to consider the patient’s life story, choices and whānau, as well as their medical history because they all have any impact on their health status. Although it wasn’t always a sexy area to work in, I loved it. The profile of gerontology nursing has certainly been raised over the past two decades.
“My patients taught me patience, to be a good listener and that behind the frail older person you are treating, is a rich history that makes them who they are. Whether I visit someone in a palatial or basic home, I always treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
After completing her Bachelor of Health Science in Nursing in 2002, Ann spent three years working for Northland DHB in the Assessment and Rehabilitation Unit and Needs Assessment Service (NASC) at Whangarei Hospital.
She returned to Auckland to work at Greenlane Hospital as a Gerontology nurse specialist in the community. Then in 2012 she was presented with the Rotary Trophy of Tradition by Sir John Key for exemplifying the spirit of nursing at the Auckland DHB Nursing and Midwifery Awards. The following year she completed her Masters with Honours, and moved to Opua, to take up her current role as a clinical nurse specialist in Gerontology at Bay of Islands Hospital.
“I have been there for seven years, which is the longest I’ve worked anywhere. I love it. I love the small hospital and our team spirit. I’m part of the Gerontology service in Whangarei and feel well supported by them. Because my work is relatively autonomous, having good relationships with our geriatricians and my clinical nurse manager is really important.”
As part of the Discharge Planning team, she visits patients post-discharge to check on their
progress as they are sometimes discharged from the hospital still compromised. She also receives referrals from GPs, and other health professionals and visits complex patients waiting for a geriatrician clinic appointment and works closely with the community physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and organisations like Hospice, Age Concern, Parkinson’s Northland and the Alzheimers Society to ensure patients are well supported and to address any potential reversibility.
She recently completed her Professional Development Recognition Programme portfolio and says she hopes to retire before she has to do another. There are plenty of plans on the horizon for her retirement, including walking the Milford Track, spending quality time with her husband and visiting her daughter and grandchildren in Sydney and her son in Chicago once the borders open.
In the meantime, her garden keeps her busy. As does the work she does with Bay Bush Action taking care of 17 possum and rat traps in the Harrison Reserve with her neighbour - which has been rewarding, seeing and hearing the increasing birdlife.
Ann is grateful for having such a satisfying career and recommends Gerontology as a career path to other nurses, because of the growing demand for the Service with our burgeoning older population.