Dr Betty Capper awarded Medal of Order of Australia
Dr Betty Capper OAM, RN, RM, AssDipNurse Education, BA, MEdStudies, PHD(History), a graduate of the Royal Newcastle Hospital and Newcastle University was recently awarded a Medal of Order of Australia for service to nursing as an educator and administrator and as an historian.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Betty Capper for the past 30 years. I first met Betty when I was 24 years of age in my role as a newly appointed clinical nurse educator at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. Betty had returned to work after a break from nursing practice to raise and school her two children. In my role as a young academic nurse Betty impressed me in ways that are unsurpassed by others. She is an extraordinary human being; she is noble, selfless, kind and compassionate, generous, visionary and intelligent.
When I first met Betty in the late 1970s she had an established and respected history with the senior nursing and medical staff of the Royal Newcastle Hospital. She played key leadership roles in the development of this hospital's reputation as a foremost tertiary referral hospital of the time and as a leading institution for the professional education of general and specialist nurses. By the 1980s Betty was instrumental in the implementation and development of new professional nursing roles, undergraduate and post graduate nursing curriculum and she was one of the many leading nurses who oversighted the smooth transition of nursing education to the tertiary sector in 1984. Her passion and concern for the recognition of nursing as a disciplinary entity in its own right was evident in her leadership at this time and later as she traced the essential history of our early nursing leaders. Even today, Betty's knowledge, expertise, wisdom and wit are held in high esteem by her nursing, medical and allied health colleagues alike.
In addition, a measure of Betty's character and drive for the professional recognition of nursing in the 1980s was that Betty became a mature age student and enrolled in a Diploma in Nursing Education with the then College of Advanced Education (Newcastle). At the same time, she was a respected and active member of the College of Nursing, New South Wales and the Royal College of Nursing; both peak nursing bodies in Australia.
Whilst undertaking her Diploma studies Betty also enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Newcastle. Of significance is that Betty completed all of her studies with honour and distinction. Her enrolment in these studies was at a time when there were few nurses with such qualifications; however, there was increasing recognition by leading nurses like Betty Capper that this was urgently needed in order to develop and educate the profession for rapidly changing health care contexts. It is in this way that Betty was not only a forerunner to the development of the nursing discipline within Australia but she was also acting as a leading advocate for the improved education of nurses, and changes in nursing practice and health care more broadly.
Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, Betty promptly enrolled in a Master of Education studies all the while working as a Senior Nurse leader in nursing education and practice development at the Royal Newcastle Hospital and later, in 1992, at the John Hunter Hospital. By this time Betty was in her mid 60s, she was completing her PhD and concurrently authoring a seminal historical publication entitled: 75 years of tender loving care: A history of the Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital 1921-1996 which is now held in the National Library of Australia's catalogue. At invitation, she also completed a biographical entry for the Australian Dictionary of Biography of the infamous Matron Irene Slater Hall who was renowned for her efforts to modernise and grow the Royal Newcastle Hospital.
With the completion of her PhD in 2003 and the imminent closure of the Royal Newcastle Hospital, Betty, whilst now in “retirement”, set about ensuring the retrieval and safety of the Royal Newcastle hospital's history. Along with others, Betty Capper led the formation of the RNH Heritage Committee and the Royal Newcastle Hospital Heritage Trust to commemorate the memory of the Royal Newcastle Hospital; its values and its legacy to health care in Australia. This trust was set up as a non for profit organisation to hold the memory of the Royal in perpetuity. If it were not for the dogged efforts of Betty Capper's commitment to nursing, health care and all things historical, the community would not be enjoying the legacy of the Royal and our nursing heritage today.
Like Matron Hall, Betty Capper was a skilled administrator and educator and “worked tirelessly to improve the status of the nursing profession”. She has also worked tirelessly to preserve the history of nursing and health care within Australia. There is no doubt that Betty Capper's service to nursing education and the profession in Australia is exceptional.
Authored by Isabel Higgins September 2010
Congratulations Dr Capper,
From Prof Mike Hazelton on the behalf of,
The School of Nursing and Midwifery,
Faculty of Health