Nursing in the Netherlands in the 70s and 80s
 by
Susan Banks

My nursing career started in the seventies in a middle large hospital (550 beds) in the very north of the Netherlands.(Friesland)
It was what we call a in-service nursing training course; whilst being trained as a nurse you were a full time employer-40 hours a week-of the hospital, working all shifts on various departments (floors) as we call the wards. On a department you had a number of wards with 6 or 8 beds on each and some small rooms with one or two beds for the very ill.
Only just 19, starting nursing training on the 28th February 1977 with 3 full months in a classroom - we didn’t wear uniforms-learning all the basics of nursing and lots of anatomy and pathology. Every Wednesday-morning we had to work on a ward trying out the skills, just learned and under supervision of a fully trained nurse. We didn’t get an official uniform you could wear anything you liked as long it was white!!!!! How silly was that!

I know it is more than 34 years ago but I still remember the first patient I had to wash(blanket-bath)We washed lots of people in those days from head to toe in their beds! She was a elderly woman with rheumatism on a surgical ward and her soap was jasmine scented, I never liked that soap from that time.

In class there were lots exams to be taken and after doing well I was let loose on a cancer unit (5wards with each 6 beds and 3 one-bed rooms.) A pretty harsh place to be for such a young girl.  Working hard –night-day and evening shifts, going back to class now and ten, suddenly I realised I wanted to be a doctor! Yes ,so along the nursing studies I started lessons in order to get the necessary A-levels. In the meantime I was transferred to a surgical ward and had a tremendous fun, looking back on this period I was pretty silly - not in my work as a student nurse - but in my free time. Taken up tennis lessons, going out to the cinema or to a disco I was pretty busy. In the meantime I passed  exams and became a second year student, then on the tennis court I  strained my back and after a few weeks of rest I was transferred  from neurology wards were I was working only for a short time to the children’s ward.

In this hospital there were two large children’s wards; one floor with babies and totlers and the other with young children up to sixteen year olds. I worked on both these wards; suddenly I decided nursing wasn’t for me and wanted to live in England! I quit the job and left for England as an au-pair in Richmond, Surrey. In the meantime still took the A-level lessons, proficiency lessons in English, some French for the fun of it (got a French boyfriend). All this had to be paid for, but how? The solution was just around the corner; working as an auxiliary nurse in a hospital.

Via Reed-Nurse I could choose where I wanted to work and when, I still was an au-pair  living in with a nice family with two children, so I needed  consent, which I got! How great was that! So off I went buying a white nurses dress, a cap (lovely frills and dots!!!!!!!) and started working on Saturdays and Sundays in the most lovely old places in the Richmond area. One of them was the West Middlesex Hospital – very Victorian in those days (they took it down a few years ago) with those enormous wards with at least 30 beds in them! I loved it! One day I had my coffee-break in the café and took my cap of (we didn’t wear those things in the Netherlands) and within seconds there was this matron appearing out of  nowhere  asking me politely to put it back on!! She must have seen what cap it was -years later I realised it was only to be worn by sisters! - but she didn’t say anything about it.

The W.M.Hospital wasn’t the only place I have worked; St. John’s Hospital in Twickenham was a lovely Victorian cottage hospital with only two wards with 20 beds each!
The Star and Garter Home needed lots of auxiliary nurses, it is or was a nursing home for wounded soldiers -mostly wounded in Northern  Ireland in those days. When I visit Richmond – almost every year - I can see the Star and Garter from afar standing proud to the backdrop of Richmond Park as if  time wasn’t an  issue.

So did I decide to enroll in a nursing course in one of the hospitals? Wearing one of those beautiful uniforms – lots of colours - with white aprons and belts and buckles and what not! 
No I did not! I went back to the Netherlands and got back to school to get the A-levels I needed to study medicine, well the subject Math didn’t go very well  and was advised to go for languages, there was no point doing that and  decided to call it a day.

Back to nursing; in Amsterdam in a small hospital (250 beds) started nursing training all over again; prelim again, exams again, do all the basics again! Luckily this hospital had dark blue uniforms with white aprons, I  liked my uniform very much, they were like the old national ones from the 40s and 50s, in the Netherlands that is. Starting in March 1980, worked on all the wards the hospital had; surgical, women’s medical, men’s medical, children’s, maternity ward, small surgery ward, theatre. Even for a long period of time on a ward for private patients-1 or 2 bed per room. And in august 1983 I became a fully qualified nurse! They offered me a job in the hospital which was quite nice as lots of people didn’t get any work at all; but I went to Paris to live there for a few months and when I came back I started to work in a very large teaching hospital in Amsterdam where I learned a lot and seemed a far cry from that little and cosy hospital where I was trained.

In the meantime I got an International diploma and registered as a SRN in England with intensions to go and live there; it never came to that. I thought flying would be nice so I did;  I became a stewardess for a Dutch airline, met my husband to be in that year, got married (this year 25 year anniversary) we have 3 beautiful children. Worked now and then mostly on a maternity ward, where ever we lived (husband air force officer) but when he had to do a tour of duty in 1996 I stopped working altogether,to be with my children all the time.
So where does it end? Well in 2014; in that year my diploma will not be valid anymore, I don’t think I will ever go back to nursing, it’s another world and it’s not mine anymore.

Susan van der Wal


Susan's Pictures
To set the scene, the Netherlands National uniform in the 1940s.
And here's the one from the 1960s.
The History of Dutch Nurses Uniforms - In a Nutshell

Of course, every hospital had their own choice in the matter. In the 1940s they started with what was called the'National' uniform which was in use until the 1950s. But by the 1960s, the 'national' was disappearing fast and a plain white dress with apron was the norm. In the 1970s you could wear anything you wanted - as long as it was white!.


1970s - anything you like as long as it's white.
Class of ’77-injecting an orange, no uniforms
Report writing.
A bunch of Nurses.
Patient care.
Helping out in the Maternity Ward.
Night shift.
Changing a bandage.
Helping out in the kitchen on Surgical 1980.
Working on Surgical.
More reports.
Christmas Carols on private wards 1980.
Second year Student Today march 1981.
IV treatment.
Being silly in the kitchen, 1981.
Relaxing after a shift.
Maternity ward as a 2nd year student.
Childrens' ward, this time as a 3rd Year student.
Childrens' ward, Christmas 1982.
4th year student nurse.
Another from the 4th year.
Graduation, August 1983.