Nurses celebrate three decades of friendship at St Vincent’s

A chance meeting as trainees has forged a friendship and career for two nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne that has spanned 30-plus years. 

Surgical Nurse, Jill Perrett, and Tiffany Plummer, an Assistant Director of Nursing/After Hours Coordinator, met in February 1988 as part of the trainee nurse intake at St Vincent’s that year. Like others, they would live on-site at the hospital’s Aikenhead Wing, located on the corner of Victoria Parade and Nicholson St, at a time when the building provided live-in accommodation to nurses while they studied and trained.

Jill and Tiffany had only just completed high school when they joined the training program. It was the first time they’d lived away from home and for Jill, who grew up in the country town of Benalla, this involved leaving behind all her familiar surroundings, including family and friends, and starting afresh. 

“I remember Mum dropped me at the front door, kissed me goodbye and drove away. I walked down the long corridor to my room, not knowing a soul. As I listened to the footsteps, chatter and laughter echoing in the halls it suddenly hit me that I was moving out of home forever, and I was alone,” recalled Jill.

Image: Jill Perrett (L) and Tiffany Plummer

Image: Jill Perrett (L) and Tiffany Plummer

Bonding moments 

Tiffany and Jill’s paths crossed on their first day when a group of older trainee nurses hosted a welcome event for the new members.

“It had become a bit of a tradition over the years for the nurses who were six months ahead to invite the new intake to the pub as a bit of a welcome – it was almost like a handover to us as they would be moving out of the nurses’ home in six months,” said Tiffany.

Officially opened in 1960, the Aikenhead Wing provided 350 bedrooms to the student nurses at St Vincent’s.

“Our bedrooms and the lounges became important areas of social contact for us – whoever had the best home-cooked treats became instantly popular on the floor as well as those with the best views. From my room you could see into some of the operating theatres,” said Jill. 

Debriefing back at the nurses’ home after a shift became a way of life and a very important part of processing many of their first-time experiences. 

A new direction

Initially nurses were required to live on-site for the three-year duration of their training. However, by the 1970s they were not obliged to stay after the first year. When undergraduate nurse education shifted to the tertiary sector in the 1990s, the Aikenhead Wing was repurposed for hospital administration and storage.  

The Aikenhead Building is now being reimagined as a home for biomedical research and innovation. The site is currently being transformed to accommodate the 11-storey Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD) – Australia’s first, collaborative hospital-based biomedical engineering research facility.   

“I have seen a lot of change around here over the years and am excited to see the old Aikenhead building now taking a new lease on life. Its new purpose is an important one and will help further medical research and care of patients,” said Jill. “I also like that there is a link to the building’s past in that it will have a teaching centre embedded.”  

Construction on the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery is scheduled to begin in January 2023 and is expected to be completed by late 2024.