Tessa Millar (now Macintyre) trained at the Western General Hospital in the early 1960s and in our conversation it soon became clear that life in the 60s was quite different. Tessa left school at 17 and applied for a job as a student nurse at the Western, where her interview questions included ‘What does your father do?’ and ‘What shape is a rugby ball?’ Such questions seem incredulous today but were obviously seen as essential in establishing credentials for a nursing career at the time!
Once accepted she moved straight into the nurses home to start her training at the Western in what was called the ‘PTS’ or Preliminary Training School. The three year course involved a mixture of classroom lectures and ward placements. Tessa had now entered the colour coded world of Western nursing where different coloured belts indicated the seniority of the student nurses with purple belts for 1st year, green belts for 2nd year and red belts for 3rd year students. In this way their level of training was immediately obvious and they could be allocated appropriate roles and responsibilities. Now we have different coloured uniforms with five shades of blue for clinical staff and two shades of green for non-clinical staff
In those days most student nurses, and some nursing and junior medical staff lived on site and there was a healthy amount of camaraderie which would have been part of the whole ‘living on campus’ experience. I got a sense that living on campus suited Tessa – she described it as great fun. She might even have taken that fun a bit far on a couple of occasions and nearly got expelled. Social life was also quite restricted with only two evening passes a month…..I can only assume that on occasion she was allowed to go and see her family. Her nursing training took her to other hospitals in the city for different aspects of her education, to the Eastern for ENT, to the Andrew Duncan Clinic for mental health and to the City Hospital for infectious disease.
Tessa has many fond memories of the Western. When I asked her about specific places around the Western the iconic Lions outside D-Block were immediately mentioned and did I know that they were (unofficially) painted different colours over the years? The Paderewski building near the junction with Crewe Road, has since been demolished, but in Tessa’s day it housed a small casualty department. She remembers night duty policemen slipping in through the back door to share a coffee and a bite to eat. She also remembers an incident relating to the bridge linking what is now the Edinburgh Cancer Centre and Ward 1. The bridge was first built to link the then radiotherapy unit with the transplant unit but proved to be too low for a fire engine to attend a small fire in a pantry in D block. As it would have been a major exercise to raise the bridge, the solution to improve access was to lower the road!