Arlene Aish (BSN ’58)

“Nursing was my choice from a young age. I had a pretty romantic view of nursing from the Cherry Ames books. When interviewed by the Director of Nursing at the time, Evelyn Mallory, she said ‘you probably won’t like it.’ I disagreed and have never regretted the choice.”

Her first year of Nursing was Arlene’s second year on the UBC campus. Most of her friends at the time were not in nursing. She and her nursing classmates did not yet have contact with patients. When they moved on to Vancouver General Hospital for 27 months of apprenticeship training, it often felt like “the blind leading the blind.” For example, Arlene relays that when she was first in charge on evening shifts on a surgical ward, “I remember asking a fellow student what a colostomy was and what I was supposed to do with it.” She describes living in residence at that time as a bit like being in the army. It seemed like a “sentence” to her as she did not much like being locked in at night. The last year back on campus was a great relief. Arlene remembers the bridge games between classes, the parties, and taking turns to show up at the Saturday morning class so the teacher would not feel too bad about the low attendance!

Arlene worked for one year (1958-59) in the Private Pavilion at the Vancouver General Hospital. The patients were interesting as a number were VIPs or related to VIPs. Some were quite wealthy and it was a clear lesson to her that money cannot buy health or happiness. Some of the patients had private nurses. When one of these private nurses made too many suggestions about how Arlene should carry out her work, “I suggested that she take care of her one patient and let me deal with my 32!”

Next, it was off to Europe for a three-month tour by car with two classmates. Afterward, it was cheaper not to return to Vancouver, so two of them stayed in Toronto to work in Public Health. That involved school nursing for four mornings per week, baby clinics twice a week, and many home visits in Arlene’s two-block-by-eight-block district in Parkdale. Many were “street visits” – chats with patients encountered on the street. Arlene learned never to ask “how are you?” if she didn’t have time to listen to the answer. Mental illness was a challenge as there were few supports for patients or nurses. She was unsuccessful in persuading a family doctor to commit a young mother who, in her opinion, was clearly psychotic. That woman’s four-year-old child watched the police take her away from the house a few months later. Family planning was also a challenge because it was against the law to counsel birth control methods (there was no birth control pill available yet). Patients did not know about the law and spoke freely about their opinions for or against family planning.

The University of Washington for a master’s degree was next on Arlene’s agenda. She missed the bridge games at UBC and had trouble adjusting to the quarter-term system. By the time mid-term exams rolled around she was just deciding whether she really needed various text books. Much was crammed into a one-year program, including a thesis. From there Arlene went to the University of Toronto to teach medical-surgical nursing for four years; two years teaching at the University of New Brunswick followed. Then Arlene decided to look into doctoral work by taking a post-masters year at the University of California, San Francisco. She enjoyed her year there and made several life-long friends. But she changed her mind about a PhD for the time being and took a position at Queen’s University in 1969, where she stayed for 27 years, until she took early retirement in 1997. While at Queens, she attended Wayne State University in the summers and on a sabbatical year and obtained her PhD in 1993, at the age of 57. While at Queen’s, she taught in each year of the four-year program, everything except maternal-child nursing and mental health. She was assistant dean for many of those years, working with Jean Hill, Alice Baumgart, and others.

Contact with exceptional students was the most rewarding part of her teaching career, Arlene says. These students were not always those with the highest grades, but those with the most creativity and aptitude for nursing. Her clinical experience in a small hospital in James Bay and Moose Factory General Hospital left lasting impressions on many students, some of whom chose to work in the north.

Arlene is now happily retired, travelling in the winters most years. In the summers, she paddles her kayak with a UBC classmate and plays golf several times a week with former colleagues. She lives with four cats in a house by a lake, “which makes kayaking alone very easy.” Arlene has been on the Board of the Kingston Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, where she is currently the treasurer. She is Past- President of the Retirees’ Association of Queen’s (RAQ), following two years as President and a number of years as Chair of the Events Committee. Her four best friends are UBC classmates; Arlene has taken several trips with two of them. She is in regular contact with several others by email and very much enjoyed their 50th anniversary last September.