This biography is based on an interview with Lynsie and Archie Kerr in July 2021 for the Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project. The interviewers were Cindy Farquhar and Michaela Selway, and the biography was constructed by Michaela.
Early Life in Auckland, Takapuna Grammar School & Medical Intermediate
Lynsie Ruth Kitchen was born in Auckland in the early 1940s as the second of four children. She lived in Takapuna with her family (mother, father, and three brothers) for the first six years of her life. After six years, the family moved to Mairangi Bay. Lynsie’s father owned a timber business in the Auckland area, and her mother had trained as a teacher but did not work after she married.
Lynsie attended Takapuna Grammar School for her High School years. There, she had the opportunity to study Maths, Physics, Chemistry, and English. It was unusual for women to study Physics in school, as many schools did not offer it at this time. Occasionally, those who knew they wished to study medicine would be permitted to attend Physics lessons at another school. Thankfully, Lynsie had the opportunity at her own school. Her husband later joked that she was better prepared for Medical School than he was.
Near the end of her school years, she was called to the Takapuna Grammar Headmaster’s office, “and he asked me what I was wanting to do. And I said I didn’t know, and so he just put me down for going to Auckland University So I had a year there.” She took out a teaching studentship because she did not know what career she wanted to pursue. Her husband recalled: “You and your mate were sitting there with nothing else to do and you said, “Oh, we might as well do that”.” However, during that first year at university, she decided that she was not enjoying the course and that she would rather pursue medicine. She spoke with her parents, and they encouraged her to pursue it if that was what she wanted to do. Thus, the following year (1961), she enrolled in Medical Intermediate. Lynsie’s older brother, David Kitchen, had enrolled in Medical School and was a year ahead of her. He later became an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Waikato. “I don’t know whether I would have even thought about doing medicine if he hadn’t.”
Lynsie continued on at Auckland University College for her Medical Intermediate. At the end of the year, she achieved high enough grades to continue on to Medical School, and so made the long trip from Auckland via boat and train down to Dunedin.
Medical School in Dunedin
Lynsie was one of approximately 12 women (out of 120 students) to start at the Otago Medical School in 1962. She vaguely remembers one woman who dropped out after becoming pregnant, though she also thinks the woman may have dropped out to fulfil certain family commitments she had. The women tended to sit together at the front, even though they were not specifically directed to do this. The only time they were directed to sit at the front was for class photos. Lynsie recalls that some of the women would knit during their lectures. One memorable moment was when she was knitting a jersey for fellow student Archie Kerr (who would soon become her husband) “and someone got hold of the wool and tossed it backwards and forwards amongst the [class] just before the lecturer came in.”
Lynsie remembers that the men and women in their class got on well. She does not remember any men saying the women were wasting a space. The men and women were not separated for any labs, and they often ended up working together on the cadavers. The only separation that did occur was in the common rooms, where the men and women had their own.
Lynsie remembers the famous Professor Adams, who taught the anatomy classes. “Bill Adams was still there. And he was remarkable for the fact that he’d walk in, then continue on the same sentence from the last lecture without a stop and not a note. Yeah. He had a reputation of being grumpy, but we all think it was because he was hounded by all his daughters and wife at home.”
Lynsie does not remember receiving a bursary for her studies, though she was financially supported by her family. Her father’s timber business was going well and so they were able to send her some money. She also earned some extra money during her holiday breaks by working as a nurse aide in a local maternity hospital. Her family was only able to support her from afar; they never made a trip down to visit her in Dunedin. Nevertheless, Lynsie’s brother was only one year ahead of her in Medical School, and they remained relatively close throughout their studies despite the fact that they were living far from each other (Lynsie boarded in St Margaret’s College for her first year in Dunedin and then later went flatting in Union Street with some fellow medical women students. David was in Knox College). “We were good mates.”
The medical students did not have much involvement with the hospitals before fourth year. In fourth and fifth years, they attended tutorials in the hospital, but had little contact with the wards. The tutorials had between 20 and 30 students. They also had to complete a week in Queen Mary Hospital hoping to deliver at least 20 babies. This requirement was difficult for some people, as they had to compete with the midwives for deliveries.
There was a lot of studying involved in the medical course and students had to remain on top of things because it was easy to fall behind. Though Lynsie did not find the exams too difficult: “all I can say is that I don’t think that when I’d finished answering the questions that I would’ve failed. I wouldn’t have thought. And that’s all I can say.” Because the medical course was quite intensive, they did not have much time for a social life. However, Lynsie remembers one trip she took to Queenstown with her girl friends for a weekend. Lynsie also entered into a long-term relationship throughout her studies. In her first year of medical school, the students were paired off alphabetically. Lynsie Kitchen was paired with Archie Kerr, as their names were side by side. Though they met in first year, their relationship only developed in their third year when the programme became less busy. Lynsie and Archie fell in love and decided to get married at the end of their fifth year so that they could do their sixth-year placement together. They got married in the summer holidays and then moved to Wellington for their final year. For sixth-year, Archie and Lynsie rotated between Wellington and Hutt Hospital. They got on well with their co-workers in Wellington and enjoyed the small town feel of Hutt Hospital.
At the end of their sixth year, the couple returned to Dunedin for their final exams and graduation. Lynsie graduated alongside nine other women. Her family did not travel to Dunedin for her graduation. “The family we had by then was the two of us…. It was sort of tucked into the end of the year… I mean, a lot of people didn’t even go to their graduation because they had jobs by the point.”
Overall, Lynsie enjoyed her time at Otago Medical School in Dunedin. “It was very, very nice- I mean, it was very strange and new, but it was very pleasant. I didn’t have any problems there.”
Career in Wellington, Moving Overseas, & Expanding the Family
Lynsie and Archie returned to Wellington following their graduation for their two registration years. Lynsie was primarily based at Hutt Hospital, but also alternated with Wellington Hospital. They were quite thankful to be able to be placed in the same hospital. “It was interesting that both of us were at Wellington Hospital. The previous year, Peter and Anthea Hatfield were not able to stay in the same hospital, so Peter was [in Wellington] and Anthea had to go to Palmerston.” They stayed in a rental house but were provided with hospital accommodation when they were on call. “The other thing was, there were seven house surgeons out of the Hutt and only six beds, six rooms. So we were both in the same one… They looked after you quite nicely and we would be woken by the maid in the morning with a glass of orange juice and things like that.”
Her first year after graduation was very intensive and she ended up completing all of the requirements needed for registration. This meant that she was able to register after one year rather than two. This proved to be a good thing, as Lynsie became pregnant that year, and gave birth to their first child, Michael, in 1968. In 1969, 18 months after Michael’s birth, Lynsie had their second child, Bronwen.
At the end of 1971, the Kerr family moved to England for Archie to pursue postgraduate training in Paediatrics. He was based at the Queen Charlotte and Great Ormond Street Hospitals. They bought a house in Surrey and the children attended a local kindergarten and school. Once the children were of schooling age, Lynsie returned to work as a General Practitioner at one of the local medical centres.
Archie spent two years studying towards his postgraduate training in Paediatrics. Following this, the family moved to Melbourne, Australia. They remained there for the duration of 1975. During this year, Lynsie gave birth to their third child, Stephen. They then returned to Wellington, where Lynsie gave birth to their fourth child, Rachel, in 1977.
Later Career & Retirement
Lynsie’s later career was quite diverse. After having their fourth child, Lynsie returned to work in Wellington. She obtained a position at the Union Health Clinics in Pomare and Petone. She also worked at the Naenae Medical Centre as a GP.
In 1981, Lynsie was approached by the police, who asked her to become a consultant for the Lower Hutt area. Her role, which was a paid position, would involve examining rape victims and sometimes those arrested for murder. Most of the call outs Lynsie attended to were in the middle of the night. “I just sort of took it in my stride, really… You couldn’t speak to people about it.” This was before there was any formal training for this type of work and it was quite emotionally and mentally taxing. Lynsie found it helpful to have a husband who was also a doctor who understood what she was going through, so she could “let off steam”. One memorable story was during the Springbok tour. The police asked her to be available to examine any protesters that were arrested. She told them that she was only available after 5pm, as she had another commitment. In reality, her commitment was that she was also going to be at the protest!
In the early 1990s, Lynsie obtained a position at Hutt Hospital Emergency Department (it was called Casualty at this time). Her position was Medical Officer of Specialist Scale (MOSS) “but she was actually running the show for probably 12 years”, until her retirement in 2003/4. Thankfully, she had the support of a wonderful anaesthetist (Dr Andy Cameron). At this time, her role was not overly complicated, despite being busy, which meant that she did not have to deal with all of the patients herself. “In those days what you tended to do was pass them on to the team in the hospital quite quickly… whether it was medical, surgical, or paediatric.” Nevertheless, it was a “fairly full-on job. And you had to do funny hours.”
Her role as Head of Department also involved scheduling. Many times, she would struggle to find last minute cover and have to do it herself. “And she would end up doing night shifts and things, because she couldn’t find someone else to do it, and this sort of thing. And at times there was very little help from the management. So you had to put up with that.”
Since retiring in the early 2000s, Lynsie has kept herself busy. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Botany, specifically looking into kohekohe and similar flora and fauna. The couple became quite involved in the revegetation of Matiu/Somes Island, the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve and Lynsie volunteers once or twice a week at Otari-Wilton’s Bush Reserve.