Joan Bocock

Author of a controversial textbook on nursing

Evelyn Joan Bocock, nurse teacher: born Babraham, Cambridgeshire 14 March 1905; Sister Tutor and Director of Nurse Education, Royal Free Hospital, London 1948-66; died Cambridge 17 December 2003.

Joan Bocock was a red-headed farmer's daughter who changed from teaching children to teaching nurses, and who aroused controversy with explicit sexual illustrations and descriptions in her 1951 textbook Applied Anatomy for Nurses. In retirement she set up nurse training in Mauritius.

One of a family of five daughters, Bocock was originally considered too delicate to be a nurse because as a child she had suffered tuberculosis and the deadly Asian flu of 1918. Originally taught by a governess, she went as a boarder to Crescent House School, Bedford, and at 14 to St Anne's, Caversham. She qualified as a teacher and taught in a deprived inner-city school at Bethnal Green, in the East End of London, where she caught mumps from a pupil.

She was an older entrant when the Florence Nightingale School accepted her as a student at St Thomas' Hospital. "Surprisingly on our joining we were told to pack an evening dress," she recalled:

The matron, Dame Alicia Lloyd-Still, had an arrangement with the London theatres that they would send the Nightingales some of their unsold tickets. The management rightly thought that it looked better to have their seats filled with well-dressed young ladies than no one at all.

At St Thomas', Bocock's red hair earned her the nickname "Poppy". She kept in touch with her training school throughout her life, in retirement attending the Nightingale Fellowship annual meetings and always speaking at them.

After qualifying, Bocock became a staff nurse at St Thomas', then a ward sister at the Royal East Sussex Hospital, Hastings. She moved to Cambridge to be near her asthmatic mother and ran the preliminary training school at Addenbrooke's Hospital. For the Second World War years, she returned to St Thomas' and its sector hospital, Botley Park, where she rode round the grounds on a "sit-up-and-beg" bicycle and nursed the casualties from Dunkirk, whom the Queen came to visit. Her wing was bombed, "but the maintenance engineers were brilliant and had us back in operation in six hours".

From 1946 to 1948 Bocock was sister tutor at the Nightingale School and as such represented the sister tutors of Great Britain at the first post-war International Congress of Nurses in Melbourne. With the start of the National Health Service, Bocock was appointed senior sister tutor at the Royal Free Hospital, London. She raised the status of the hospital among the London teaching hospitals as a centre for nurse education. "To start with I could count the number of student nurses on my fingers, so I also trained some of the medical students in things like moving patients, giving injections and so on," she recalled.

She had a great influence on nurse tutors nationally without ever having a great public presence, although her textbook Applied Anatomy for Nurses (co-authored with R. Wheeler Haines) caused a storm in the profession because of its illustrations and descriptions. This sort of thing had appeared in textbooks for medical students, but not those for nurses. Although Bocock looked stuffy, she was adventurous and challenging. Her writings explored new ways of doing things. Later textbooks included Aids to Bacteriology for Nurses (with Katharine F. Armstrong, 1959 - later going through several editions as Microbiology for Nurses, most recently in 1992).

Joan Bocock stayed at the Royal Free past the retirement age and was 61 when she left. But not to retire. The hospital service in Mauritius needed someone to teach their sisters how to train their nurses. Bocock did the job, buzzing around the island in a Mini Cooper. Even this was not the end of her teaching. On her return to England she trained medical secretaries at Harringay Technical College in London.

She received no public honours but was given the honorary life membership of the British Red Cross Society.

Laurence Dopson

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