Distinguished nursing education pioneer, Dr Joan Durdin AM, RN, FRCNA (Hon), (DUniv ’94), has worked tirelessly throughout her life to improve the professional status of nursing across Australia and internationally.
After completing her general nursing training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1945, Dr Durdin moved to Melbourne to complete her midwifery training at the Queen Victoria Hospital. In 1949 she was awarded a Florence Nightingale Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Nursing London.
She later returned to the Royal Adelaide Hospital where she was Senior Sister Tutor from 1955 until 1964, before spending the following six years as a nurse educator in Papua New Guinea.
In 1974 Dr Durdin joined the Nursing Department at Flinders University (then the Sturt College of Advanced Education) as a lecturer. Just one year later, she was fundamental to the establishment of South Australia’s first tertiary nursing course – and only the third in Australia.
From 1979 to 1981 Dr Durdin was Head of the Nursing Department, then Head of the School of Health Professions at Flinders University before she retired in 1983.
Dr Durdin believes role models are integral to guiding the way for nursing students.
‘When I look back on my training I had many role models,’ says Dr Durdin. ‘When I was just starting out as a 19-year -old student, I recall two older students, slightly ahead of me in the course, who became my role models.
‘Primrose Mary Viner-Smith was one – she had gained an arts degree in the UK and came back to Australia to enrol in nursing to help with the war effort. The other was the late Betty Westwood, who became the Matron at St Peter’s Boys School. She was a conservationist and native plant propagator and was part of the group that formed Trees for Life in South Australia.’
During her career, Dr Durdin was also active with the College of Nursing Australia (now the Australian College of Nursing), which awarded her an Honorary Fellowship in 1984. She was President of the South Australian Branch of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation (now the Australian Nursing Federation) between 1976 and 1980, and served on the Board of Management of Child and Adolescent and Family Health Service for three years, including as Chair in 1983.
The importance of Dr Durdin’s work was recognised when she was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985, and later in 1994 when she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Flinders University.
Dr Durdin says if she could change one thing to advance global health care, ‘It would be to develop the capacity to listen to ideas, and share them, instead of insisting on one’s own view.’
Along with being an advocate and educator, Dr Durdin is also proud of her recent achievements in oral history. Following university studies in history she conducted extensive interviews, which provided rich resources for her two books, They Became Nurses: a History of Nursing in South Australia, 1836-1980, and Eleven Thousand Nurses: A History of Nursing Education at the Royal Adelaide Hospital 1889-1993.