Passing of nursing education pioneer

19 May 2016

Dr Judith Christensen, one of the pioneers of New Zealand nursing education, died this week aged 73. She was New Zealand's first nurse to gain a PhD in nursing and back in 1973 was the founder of one of the country's first nursing schools based outside of a hospital.

Tributes have been paid to her by nursing education leaders. Judy Kilpatrick, the head of the University of Auckland nursing school said Christensen mentored and assisted many of today's nurse leaders .  "She met many challenges with dignity and grace, and always with a very intelligent and persuasive argument," said Kilpatrick. "She will be fondly remembered and sadly missed."

Another nurse educator Dr Susan Jacobs, who was on the executive of NETS (Nursing Education in the Tertiary Sector) with Christensen, said she was an "absolute inspiration".  "She was politically astute, deeply committed to the profession, a real scholar and a nice person.

Christensen, a Greenlane Hospital-trained nurse, won a research award at the age of 25 from the then New Zealand Nursing Association to study in Canada for three years to gain her master's degree at McGill University.

While Christensen was overseas, growing disquiet about the hospital-based apprenticeship training model led to the Carpenter Report and a Department of Education report resulting in the announcement in 1972 that pilot diploma programmes would be offered the following year at the then Wellington Polytechnic and Christchurch Technical Institute.

Christensen returned to clinical nursing and New Zealand in 1972. She told Nursing Review in an interview in 2003 that during a trip to Wellington to thank nursing leaders for her scholarship she was told by the Department of Health's nursing leader that she should show her 'thanks' to New Zealand by applying to head the pilot diploma programme at Wellington Polytechnic. The hospital-trained nurse, who had an undergraduate degree from The University of Auckland, said she was "fairly neutral" about the shift to polytechnic education but felt obliged to apply for the post. “I was not an advocate for either side. I just thought it made sense.”

She was appointed to the job in the second week of December to a school that didn't have a curriculum, a timetable or even any students. Having worked out her notice at Waikato Hospital, she started her new position at Wellington Polytechnic in mid-January, the day before prospective students turned up for their entry interviews.

The programme did get underway on 1 March with 30 "risk-taking" students. The pilot school was given the curriculum guidelines that the training should be comprehensive and prepare nurses for any branch of the health service and be completed in 2700 to 3000 hours (half theory and clinical practice). The programme remained a pilot until 1976 when the comprehensive training programmes were formally established. Christensen said in an interview published in Kai Tiaki in 2008 that she only wanted to stay for her initial three-year contract as she was keen to return to clinical nursing, but she ended up staying at the school for more than 20 years.

After a Fulbright Scholarship trip to the United States in the late 1970s, she decided to start working on a PhD research project that developed a nursing theoretical framework for the partnership between nurses and patients.

Her thesis was completed in the late 1990s when she became the first New Zealand nurse to gain a PhD in nursing. Her theory framework was later published as Nursing Partnership: a Model for Nursing Practice, an influential book on New Zealand nursing and nursing wider afield.

Christensen ended her 50-year career working for the Salvation Army, in which she held the position of captain. During her time with the Salvation Army she developed a successful new model of treatment for alcohol and drug addiction known as the Bridge.

She passed away suddenly in Hamilton on 16 May 2016 and a service of thanksgiving is to be held at the Hamilton City Salvation Army on Saturday 21 May.


N.B. Article last updated on Sunday May 22 


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