Angels of War: Remembering Australian Army Nurses

Patricia Violet Slater (1918-1990)

Patricia Violet Slater’s contribution to the world of nursing went far beyond her line of duty. She paved the pathway for many in the field of nursing education, and was a key supporter of bringing modern medical standards to Australia. 

Header image: Nurse’s Room in Egypt, WWI. The nurse who resides there can be seen in the mirror. Courtesy of State Library Victoria
Portrait of Patricia Slater.
Portrait of Patricia Slater. Courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation

Patricia came into her role in World War II with a strong background in nursing to begin with, having trained at the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital and the Alfred Hospital. From 1943, Patricia served with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) as a lieutenant- a position she would go on to hold until after the war in 1947. Patricia’s work kept her in Australia early on the war, between hospitals in Victoria and Queensland. Towards the end, in 1945, she also went abroad to serve at the 2/4th Australian General Hospital and 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station on islands off the coast of Borneo.

Through this, Patricia Slater had experienced what it was like to have a position of true leadership and influence in the medical field. Like many women post-war, she had earned a sense of individual empowerment through her work; something she was reluctant to let go of now that things were to return to ‘normal’.

Patricia spent a decade travelling and working abroad after the war, moving across Australia, the UK and Europe before returning home. Here, she began to teach Nursing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, beginning her involvement with the educational world for medicine. Completing a diploma in Nurse Education, then taking a scholarship to the University of Washington in 1959 and writing her thesis, Patricia had come to the conclusion from her experiences that Australia’s nursing education system was vastly outdated. At this time, Australian nursing had still been functioning on an apprenticeship-based system; using her appointment to being a director at the College of Nursing in Melbourne, 1965, Patricia became a voice for change. It was her work that influenced the introduction of undergraduate courses for nursing, something that her own college introduced in 1974, with many more to follow in their footsteps.

Before her death in 1990, Patricia Violet Slater took on a number of leadership positions that set her as the face of modern nursing education in Australia. To this day, she is still remembered for her contributions and influence- with an award at the Royal College of Nursing named after her in respect.