Lisbeth Hockey

Pioneer of nursing research

"I was terribly stupid at sports, but I quite liked swimming," recalled Lisbeth Hockey. So this Austrian medical student refugee from the Nazis in 1938 chose, when unable to continue her medical studies, aged 20, the London Hospital for her general nurse training - because it had a swimming pool.



Lisbeth Hochsinger (Lisbeth Hockey), nursing researcher: born Graz, Austria 17 October 1918; Research Officer, Queen's Institute of District Nursing 1964-71; Director, Nursing Research Unit, Edinburgh University 1971-82; OBE 1979; died Edinburgh 16 June 2004.



"I was terribly stupid at sports, but I quite liked swimming," recalled Lisbeth Hockey. So this Austrian medical student refugee from the Nazis in 1938 chose, when unable to continue her medical studies, aged 20, the London Hospital for her general nurse training - because it had a swimming pool.

She learnt English in three months so as to be accepted. Once at the London, however, she was not impressed at the way doctors lectured student nurses with "very diluted medicine" and ward sisters discouraged her questioning.

"Lisbeth Hochsinger was an Austrian refugee of Jewish extraction," records Mabel Reynolds in the "Matron's Remarks" section of the register of probationers entering training in 1938-39:

She had obviously suffered much mentally and physically and she was anxious about her parents who were still in Vienna. Shortly after she came here a message was received to say her father had died, she was greatly distressed about this, and much concerned about her mother, in consequence her health suffered.

The hospital looked after her and her health improved. Hockey (as she soon became) was always conscious of her small size. Because her feet could not reach the ground when she sat on the infant-school bench in Graz, her entry into school was delayed for a year. Her stature was only of advantage when children at Coppetts Wood Isolation Hospital, Muswell Hill, during the Blitz were nursed for safety, during air-raids, on the floor, out of their cots. Smallness also contributed to her competitiveness in a career which led her to high honours. Because her sister, her only sibling, was nine and a half years older, Lisbeth Hockey always thought she was a "mistake" on her parents' part. She was stirred to achieve.

When Hitler came to Austria, it was no longer safe for Hockey to remain, although her architect father and the family were not practising Jews. The Quakers brought her to England and she went as a governess to Seaton in Devon with the Wedgwood family. In her Edinburgh flat in retirement she had Wedgwood china and a photograph of Graz. Her sister subsequently joined her in England.

"The most memorable moment in my whole nursing career occurred during the early days of my training," Hockey recalled in 1997:

I had observed that some patients acquired "bedsores" while others, similar in age, gender and diagnosis, escaped the lethal effects of heavily starched bed linen. I kept fairly methodical notes and asked the ward sister to explain my observations. Her answer was something along the lines of: "You should not take notes while working or ask such questions."

This started the rebellious Hockey on a career of nursing research. The 1960s and 1970s saw the birth of research in nursing, in which the leaders included Hockey and two other refugees from the Nazis, Charlotte Kratz and Annie Altschul. Hockey's research was perhaps concentrated on figures rather than original ideas, and she could be difficult to work with. But her findings met with the approval of the Department of Health.

At the Queen's Institute of District Nursing she was inspired by Captain Max Pemberton to research economic aspects of nursing. In Feeling the Pulse (1966) she found district nurses were occupied with "non-nursing tasks". Care in the Balance (1968) showed the hospital service was used wastefully. Feeling the lack of a degree, Hockey would study until 3am, after a full day's work researching, to obtain a degree in Economics.

From 1972 to 1982 Hockey was Director of the first Nursing Research Unit in Great Britain, in Edinburgh University, where she worked hard and put Edinburgh on the nurse research map worldwide. In addition to her research, she collaborated with the leader of Scotland's general practitioners, Dr Ekke Kuenssberg - like her an escapee from Nazi Germany - in his development of "the team" in general practice.

Hockey had been the medical student in Austria whose ambition was to be a general practitioner, not a specialist. Appropriately she was the nurse whom the Royal College of General Practitioners made an honorary fellow. The Royal College of Nursing made her a fellow in 1977 and she was appointed OBE in 1979. The Queen's Institute awarded her its Gold Medal of Honour in 2000.

When Hockey retired she deliberately left the Research Unit with research uncompleted, so that her successor had work in hand to continue to get funding for. In retirement she was involved in an exploratory study of "cumulative trivia in the elderly - a trigger to loss of independence". Thought to be the first investigation of its kind in the United Kingdom, it has been funded by a grant from the Queen's Nursing Institute of Scotland and the Lisbeth Hockey Award to the Department of General Practice at Edinburgh University.

Until she was finally incapacitated by osteoporosis Lisbeth Hockey travelled the world lecturing. She never married and her sister died before her.

Laurence Dopson

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