Face of the day

Jean Mary Sandel

Jean Mary Sandel

There are so many unknown treasures in New Zealand and this amazing lady is one of them. Her wiki page is barely one line yet she was a pioneer and ahead of her time. She died at such a young age too, after achieving  so much. Women like this are my heroines as this is what a real feminist looks like. Someone who goes toe to toe as an equal despite the odds and despite the difficulties. It is because of women like her that my daughter knows that if she wants it badly enough she can aspire to achieve it.

Jean Mary Sandel was a notable medical practitioner. Born in Kaipi, Gisborne on Boxing Day, 1916 she was the only child of Mary (nee Gow) and Arthur Sandel, who was a licensed surveyor.

Her name lives on as the name given to the Jean Sandel Retirement Village, in Barrett Road, New Plymouth…
…Jean’s family moved to Taumarunui, from where she attended New Plymouth Girls’ High School as a boarder – one of about 27. There she made her mark as an outstanding student and leader, named Dux in 1932 and 1933.

She was the first girl in Taranaki to be awarded the Royal Life Saving Society’s Diploma. She was also a life-saving coach. At the matriculation exams in 1933 she did so well she won a junior scholarship. Writing was also a strength, as she was placed first in the essay competition at the Hawera Show.

Despite her academic prowess, Jean wasn’t totally happy at school. “The expectations of me were too high,” she explained.

In 1934, Jean Sandel began studies at the Medical School at Otago University aided by a national scholarship, and she finally graduated MB ChB in 1939.

Yet, she admitted to Reverend Tom Woods, the minister at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, and his wife Patricia, she found her medical studies, “a struggle” – mostly due a certain male chauvinistic attitude towards women studying to become doctors at that time.

After spending her early working years at Wellington Hospital as a house surgeon, Jean, 30, headed to England in 1946 for four years of postgraduate study, where she became a surgical registrar in London. She also became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1947, the first New Zealand woman graduate so honoured.

By late 1950 she was back in New Zealand, working as a surgeon at the New Plymouth Hospital. She was the first woman surgeon in this country, so was a pioneer in that sense.

Medical staff, including Jean Sandel (front row, third from left)  -teara.govt.nz

Medical staff, including Jean Sandel (front row, third from left)

In 1964, she was appointed leader of the surgical department at Taranaki Base Hospital, which had seven other surgeons. As she was not especially tall, she would often operate standing on a wooden box, which was eventually upgraded to a stool.
One person who worked with her was Anne Smillie, a nurse in 1970-1971, mostly in the outpatients clinic.

“She was down to earth and liked to get things sorted. She didn’t mess about. Always very organised,” said Anne, who is secretary of the Historical Society at the Taranaki Base Hospital.

Gloria Crossley has the distinction of being operated on by Jean and working with her, although on the administrative side of Taranaki Base Hospital. As an infant Gloria had a birthmark successfully removed by Jean.

“I was in awe of the lady. She was a person before her time and someone people aspired to be like.”

A patient who was highly impressed was Joyce Jarrold, who had been involved in a car accident in 1957.

“Jean Sandel was the surgeon. She spent a great deal of time with me, quietly explaining that I might have to face life in a wheelchair, as the operation might not succeed.” However, the operation did succeed…

– Taranaki Daily News

To read the article in full go here.

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