Rita McEwan--nursing leading, reformer and visionary.
McEwan was born in 1918 and educated in Canterbury. She registered as a psychiatric nurse at Ngawhatu Hospital in Nelson in 1943, as a general nurse at Gisborne's Cook Hospital in 1945 and as an obstetric nurse at Auckland's National Women's Hospital in 1956. She completed the post graduate diploma of nursing in Wellington in 1952.
McEwan had a long and distinguished career as a psychiatric nurse in New Zealand and abroad. She was a tutor sister at Ngawhatu Hospital and the Auckland Mental Hospital and an assistant matron at Tokanui Hospital. In the 1950s she was appointed matron of Levin's Kimberley Hospital and Training School and in 1960 matron of Tokanui Hospital in Te Awamutu. During the last five years of her career, she returned to the psychiatric service as principal nurse of Porirua Hospital retiring in 1982.
Much of McEwan's work in mental hospitals was before drugs were available for the treatment of mental illness, when hospitals were locked and care was custodial, leaving much to be desired. She had tremendous empathy with people. She insisted on their dignity being respected and was an inspiration to nurses and people with mental illness alike. She was an advocate for and insisted on standards of professionalism for psychiatric nursing and the care of people with mental illness far beyond the standards of the time. She had a commanding presence and a vibrant and forceful personality. She was mentally and physically agile and always impatient to achieve progress. She used the strength of her personality to reform psychiatric nursing services.
McEwan also had a long and distinguished career internationally with the World Health Organisation over a period of 20 years. She established schools of nursing in Singapore, Iran and Egypt and did consulting and advising assignments in the Philippines, Fiji, Thailand, Nepal and Indonesia. She was one of New Zealand's major contributors to the development of nursing services internationally at that time. She maintained an extensive range of international contacts from those years of service to the benefit of New Zealand's services as well.
When McEwan was appointed nurse inspector in the Division of Nursing at the head office of the Department of Health in 1961, she was the first nurse from the psychiatric services to be appointed to the wider nursing field. Over subsequent years she held other positions as tutor and then principal at the School of Advanced Nursing Studies. She spent a lot of her time educating general nurses in the basic concepts of psychiatric nursing while advocating for the role of psychiatric nurses, improvement in their practice, and better standards of care for people with mental illness.
In retirement, McEwan held appointments on the Oakley Hospital Committee of Inquiry, the Health Services Personnel Commission, the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council, the C L Bailey Trust, the Richmond Fellowship, and was a selector for Volunteer Service Abroad. She also gave personal support to many nurses in their old age.
She was awarded the MBE in 1981 and NZNA's Gold Medal of Honour in 1983.
McEwan was an outstanding nursing leader in New Zealand and overseas over a period of 60 years. She articulated a vision of psychiatric nursing and, through her energy, persuasiveness and determination, made it happen. She was very effective in achieving change because of her vibrant personality and charming manner. She was an extraordinary person and those who worked with her remember her with the greatest admiration and affection.
Information provided by former matron of Christchurch's Sunnyside Hospital and State Services Commissioner Margaret Bazley and psychiatric nursing researcher Kate Prebble
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|Title Annotation:||NEWS AND EVENTS|
|Publication:||Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2007|
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