Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Ellen Dougherty Biography

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Ellen Dougherty was a significant person in the world of healthcare. She dedicated her life to improving conditions of medical institutions. She started as an acting matron at Wellington District Hospital and later took post matron of Palmerston North Hospital. She became the world's first registered nurse in New Zealand.

Ellen Dougherty was born in on September 20, 1844 in Cutters Bay, Marlborough, New Zealand. Ellen was around five years old when her family moved to Wellington. Her father had become a maritime pilot there. They stayed in the pilot house on Palmar Head. Life for her and her siblings there was difficult and secluded. They received their education mostly through reading their fathers library, their parents, and a governess. (New Zealand Encyclopedia)

Ellen started training as a nurse after learning about Florence Nightingale. She started working at the Wellington District Hospital in 1855. It is believed that she worked with Charles Barraud in his pharmacy before she began training as a nurse, which helped her in her. In 1877 she completed her certificate in nursing, she also had distinction in senior anatomy.

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After completing her nursing certificate, she was the head of the hospitals accident word and ran the surgery ward. Since the appointed person to succeed the matron was unavailable, Ellen became the acting matron when Elizabeth Hermansen, the matron, became ill. When the appointed matron returned, Ellen accepted the job as post matron of Palmerston North Hospital.

When Ellen arrived at the Palmerston North Hospital she quickly discovered that little to nothing had been done in providing basic materials for the hospital, and money was scarce. Her first concern was making sure there was an adequate supply of linen since antibiotics were not around yet. Keeping the linen changed was their way to help prevent the spread of infection. One of her contributions was organizing sewing bees with her family to sew sheets, pillow-cases, and bandages.

Her job was very demanding. Since there was construction for the North Island's main railway line there were many accidents relating to it. Ellen had to preform several things since doctors were not always available for them. On top of her other duties, Ellen ran the hospital's dispensary. In 1899 she was formally registered as a pharmacist.

In September 1901, New Zealand was the first country to have separate legislation for the registration and regulation of nursing. The Nurses registration act became law in 1902. Any nurse that had trained could apply to have their name on the register list. On January 10, 1902 Ellen became registered. Her name was the first one to go down on the list and that is how she literally became the world's first registered nurse.

Ellen retired from Palmerston and had grown the hospital to twice is original size in a period when she had chief administration responsibility. (New Zealand Encyclopedia) She passed away on November 3, 1919. She left behind a legacy and contributions. She was greatly admired for her work and determination in the field.

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