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Nurse Kathy retires after 57 years of service

Kathy Pedersen didn't always want to be a nurse, she was actually dead set on being a vet. Growing up on a farm she regularly adopted all injured animals and brought them back to health. However when the time came for the 'what are you going to be' conversation unfortunately her father had a strong objection to her dream occupation.

"And that was that. In those days what your father said went. So I turned to Mum and said 'what now' and she suggested nursing," says Kathy.

A further chat with a careers guidance person at school confirmed nursing as a good fit for Kathy, so on 4 July 1960 she officially started training at Waikato Hospital. Despite her initial reservations Kathy took to nursing well and regularly got honours in her examinations.

"I didn't know it at the time but Dad was getting the neighbours to bet on how many honours I would scoop - and he made quite a bit of money on it too!"

Kathy with her Mother at her graduation day.

When Kathy finished her training she went to National Women's Hospital in Auckland to become a sister.

From there a friend had an invitation to go to Canada and floated the idea of an OE with Kathy. At the time you needed an invite through a family connection - which her friend had, or enough money for a return airfare. Kathy didn't have the cash required, so she planned to work in Australia to earn the money she needed and later meet her friend in Canada.

However, cupid intervened. Kathy met her New Zealand born husband and spent the next 20 years working and raising a family in Melbourne. She worked in a variety of roles in Australia, starting first at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in roles across the hospital.

"I then went district nursing - even though I still didn't know my way around Melbourne at all, I didn't even know where Geelong Road was. I remember my new boss laughing at that and saying I best go for a drive with my husband in the weekend. When I saw it was a major highway I realised why she laughed so much."

Kathy worked in district nursing until her first child was born. While her children were young she worked in a few different nursing roles including a stint night nursing in a rest home, but most memorably was her time with a fixed wing air ambulance service. With this team she flew all over New South Wales and Tasmania visiting accident and rescue scenes.

"I lived near the airport so I was handy. We'd get the call and off we'd go. I loved it, I spent about ten years with the team. My time with the air ambulance is one of career highlights."

Kathy returned to New Zealand in about 1983 and started practice nursing, working in many different practices within Pinnacle Midlands Health Network in Morrinsville, Hamilton and Cambridge.

Through those roles she was invited to be a part of the team that helped to set up the nursing requirements in what is now known as Anglesea Clinic.

"I had to visualise the room, think of the equipment we'd need in it for the various tasks and make sure there was enough space, electricity outlets - everything we'd need for whatever that room might see," says Kathy.

Working emergency was something Kathy was of course confident with from her years with the air ambulance service. But the Anglesea experience meant she got to work closely with a lot of GPs.

She quickly became known as someone who got stuck in, noticed changes that needed to be made and set about making them. This made her a popular shoulder tap for various projects because once she started something she would always see it through.

"It probably was the culture at the time, but you didn't get a lot of feedback or praise. It wasn't until years later when I bumped into a GP in the supermarket and he told me how much he appreciated the attitude I brought to work I realised what people thought of me. I could have floated out of the supermarket - his kind words made me that happy."

Kathy is the only nurse in her family - so far. Her career has sparked interest with her granddaughter, who has just sat her nursing state finals.

 "She's always been interested in my stories - and those of my sister who is a physio so I had a hint she would go into something medical.

"We're officially waiting for results - but I know she's got it," Kathy proudly declares.

When asked about her hopes for nursing in the future Kathy is excited about the nurse practitioner role.

"I would have loved to have been an NP. I want to see that gain more support and encouragement across the sector. It is a way to recognise the skills nurses bring to the health sector. It is a lot of work, but those who go for it are really helping to fill that skill shortage gap that we all know is coming," says Kathy.

Those who know Kathy well might know this isn't the first time she's attempted retirement. It is in fact about the sixth, but she swears this one will stick.

"No more favours, no more coming back for 'just a month' and end up staying for a year. I'm already missing out at my retirement village, there's always something on and I want to be a proper part of it."

Kathy will keep herself busy with needlework, quizzes, Mah-jong, gardening club and - most quirkily - the 'coffin club'.

"My sister has retired in Katikati and we're going to join the club and make our own caskets. I've never done woodworking so it should be a hoot."

And she has her Sunday lunches four times a year with her 'sisters' for life - she still meets up with the girls she met all those years ago when she first donned her nurses uniform and began her training.

Pinnacle MHN nurse leads Sally Newell and Hilde Mullins both want to thank Kathy for her contribution to nursing, and specifically primary care. "Kathy has a longstanding history with various practices across the network, and her hard work and dedication will be missed by many we're sure," says Hilde.

Kathy's final day at Cambridge Medical Centre was 29 November.

Kathy pictured outside Cambridge Medical Centre during her last week of work.

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