This biography is based on an interview with Carol Shand conducted in 2020 for the Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project and biographical material included in the family history, ‘Virtue Leads, Fortune Follows’, compiled and edited by Ann Green. Carol’s memoir “Things I remember or was told” was published by Writes Hill Press in October 2022.
Class of 1962
The Unstable Early Days: Life on the Family Farm and Moving Between Homes
Meon Carolyn (Carol) Shand was born in Wellington on 21 September 1939 to Tom and Claudia Shand, just three weeks after war was declared. Claudia travelled to Wellington to have the baby, as the family lived on a 7,000-acre sheep station that was not easily accessible in winter. Carol is the second of four children. Tom worked on the farm and Claudia, who was a doctor, had begun to assist the local GP in Kaikoura, giving anaesthetics, which required a 14-mile journey partly on a narrow limestone road.
In 1941, Tom enlisted in the air force and Claudia did locum work for four months in Cheviot and then was accepted as a House Surgeon in Wellington Hospital. Afterwards, in 1943, she worked as a relief anaesthetist before establishing a small general practice in Ghuznee Street. As neither parent could mind their two children, Carol “was dumped on a Mrs Bennett in Seatoun or Miramar, somewhere in Wellington” and her older brother Antony was first sent to live with their paternal grandparents. He later joined Carol at Mrs Bennett’s house and then as a weekly border to Scott’s. Carol only has one memory of her time at Mrs Bennett’s, which was of her being given an enema. Later the children spent some time in an orphanage for a short time before Carol went to live with Mrs Haszard in Karori, “a wonderful nurse” with whom Carol remained in contact for the rest of her life and who was a strong supporter of liberalising abortion laws. In 1944 when their mother moved into a flat in Upton Terrace, she had another daughter, Jill, and was able to take the older children back to live with her and Carol started school at Queen Margaret College.
The family returned to Kaikoura late in 1946. Tom had been discharged from the Air Force in 1944 with high-tone deafness and so had completed a farm management degree at Lincoln College before being elected to Parliament as MP for Marlborough in 1946. Claudia joined Dr Langtree Withers as an assistant in his general practice in Kaikoura. Carol did not understand a lot of the work her mother did, but she saw the way people treated her mother – they loved her. This inspired Carol to also become a doctor. “I think I could have been an MP or a GP, you model yourself on your parents to some extent… I suppose I wanted to be a doctor from the time I was a child. And I didn’t ever change.”
Boarding Schools: St Margaret’s and Woodford House
From late 1946 to 1948 Carol attended the local Kaikoura District High School which covered primers to form five. After two years there she was sent to board at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch, at the age of 9. Carol remembers a typhoid epidemic in Kaikoura caused by an infected town milk supply. Her mother managed the epidemic as a GP, her sister was infected, and the schools were closed. The following year a nation-wide polio epidemic closed the schools again. Despite the epidemics, however, she remembers frequently going to the beach, swimming, and playing with other children.
St Margaret’s, where she boarded from ages 9 to 13, gave Carol a “superb” education: “I couldn’t have had a better primary school education. We had some very good, very well qualified teachers. I knew as much about grammar in standard six as I’ve ever learnt since, nobody ever taught me any more grammar, and it helped me hugely when I tried to learn Latin.”
When Carol was starting secondary school, Claudia sent Carol to the college she herself had attended – Woodford House in Hawkes Bay. The journey to Hawkes Bay from Kaikoura was long. Carol first caught a train from Kaikoura to Lyttleton and then an overnight ferry to Wellington. From there, she took a train to Napier and a bus to the school in Havelock North. A coterie of girls from the South Island travelled together. Due to the distance, she did not come home for any term breaks. In 1954, the Shand family moved back to Wellington when Tom was appointed as cabinet minister, which made the commute easier for Carol.
While Carol was in the 6th form, Woodford had a very good math’s and physics teacher but not one who was qualified to teach chemistry at that level, so Carol attended chemistry classes at Iona, a nearby school. Carol feels that this education was quite good for preparing her for university and she achieved well academically at every school she attended. However, partly because of the shortage of science teaching, she left at the end of 6th form to start university.
Intermediate Year in Wellington: Abandoning the “Social Rubbish”
Carol decided to study for her medical intermediate year at Victoria University of Wellington as it was close to family. Despite good academic results in school, Carol claims she only just scraped by to get into medical school. She blames this partly on the “social rubbish” she was expected to participate in outside of university. Carol “was in the last group of debutantes at Government House, after which New Zealand moved away from some of its previous social dependence on English tradition.” She felt an overwhelming sense of expectation to “play the role of the eldest daughter of the house”, which involved going to balls and other social events. However, “The dean called me in halfway through the year, and he said, ‘Miss Shand, perhaps you should divide the course over two years.’ And I sort of raised my eyebrows and pulled in my horns.” She stopped going to these events and solely worked on her studies. As planned, Carol passed the year and entered medical school in 1958.
Claudia and Tom were extremely supportive of Carol attending medical school and gave her a living allowance. Carol completed all the medical school classes after failing anatomy in third year and having to sit a “special”. She had, perhaps unwisely, also sat a political science paper in that year! Carol was involved in student politics, sitting on the student’s association executive, and chairing the student Political Club in her 5th year.
Only ten percent of the medical school class were women (in contrast to more than 50% now). “Our classmates were seldom unpleasant to us, in any way. We had their full support. But some of the lecturers were extremely offensive. Remarks like “why are you taking up the place of a man who can be a proper doctor?”
“Things that I remember, the fifth year, end of year dinner, because we left in fifth year to go and do sixth year elsewhere. And it was the big, end of term social event; the women were not allowed to attend the dinner. So, in our year, I organised that the women and some partners of the men students, would come. It was in a hotel, and we got a room on the same floor nearby where we all sat and talked and drank. There was an open area at the end of the lecture theatre, and I sat beside it and listened to the speakers. Well, the reason they couldn’t have the women come was because the lecturers liked to tell dirty jokes and they couldn’t tell them in front of the women. That was the last year that women were excluded, we made so much fuss.”
Carol also remembers that they learnt very little about contraception or women’s health in class.
“We had one lecture [on sex education]. You must have been told by others, of the one annual condom lecture that the dean of the O&G department gave. And it was crammed with students, not medical students mostly. It was an open lecture, all the art students turned up and at some point, he brought a condom up and stretched it and it was a useless lecture, really. If they didn’t know about condoms they wouldn’t have come. But it was a public lecture. That was probably the only contraception we had. But then by the time I was doing my clinical years, I was friendly with Erich who had a more modern attitude to teaching students about sexual matters and to providing appropriate clinical advice to women. For instance, he got very quickly interested in cervical smears, in the need for smears and promoting them. The Dean would not allow a policy of performing cervical smears on all women patients. Erich wrote a paper looking at a group of women who had terminal cervical cancer and had been in the O&G department as an inpatient within months or years of the diagnosis of their cervical cancer, and if they’d had a smear they would have had much earlier diagnosis and treatment and might not have died from the cancer.”
Oral contraception was just becoming available as Carol graduated. She herself took Anovlar, one the first contraceptive pills to be used in New Zealand in 1961. It was quite a big dose of oestrogen, and it caused Carol to feel premenstrual and nauseated all month. While a student, Carol commented “some of us managed to get a diaphragm fitted, a humiliating experience to find a GP who would be helpful. Something creepy about it.”
Carol’s relationship with Dr Erich Geiringer started in her fourth year of the medical course. She had first met him at a brief tutorial in one of her pre-clinical courses at the end of her third year and they became friendly in the following year. Erich was considerably older than Carol and the Dean who had been in her mother’s class at Medical School, did not approve of their relationship. In fact, the Dean called her mother and suggested she come down to Dunedin to extract Carol from the relationship. Her parents came down and met Erich, but the reason for the visit was never mentioned. This was the only time they ever came during her entire degree, apart from graduation. Dorothy Kral and Carol shared a flat in London Street further up the street from the flat that Erich shared with some of their class.
In her sixth and final year, Carol returned to Wellington to her parent’s house while Erich travelled back to Scotland where he had studied and did a locum in the Shetlands and visited friends and relatives in the UK. He arrived back just in time for her graduation at the end of 1962.
Many Early Changes: Placement as House-Surgeon, Moving Abroad, & Marrying Erich
Following her graduation in 1962, Carol worked as a house surgeon at Wellington and Hutt Hospitals. She did a range of attachments both medical and surgical, which qualified her to be registered as a doctor at the end of 1963. She followed this with a few locums in General Practice which she found “very interesting. It was hard for women to get general practice locum in ’63… they didn’t want you.” In fact, Carol found, when she set up practice herself in 1964 that there were “only three or four women in general practice in Wellington when I set up, very few. And most practices didn’t know what to do with a woman locum in general practice, they’d never had one. Their excuses were that there were no facilities or there was no accommodation if it was out of town.” Carol believes that the practices thought women could not manage the workload.
The most interesting locum she did was in Kaitaia. There was a high obstetric load which she enjoyed, and she was well supported by the other partner in the practice, Dr Bill Parkes, whose support often extended to invitations to dinner cooked by his wife. She was required to visit Mongonui, Cooper’s beach and Broadwood for half-day clinics so was able to see much of the far north. Erich came up after her locum finished and they drove up to Cape Reinga to see the most northern part of NZ.
Following this locum, Carol took a job as a ship’s surgeon for the Port Line to London via Panama. Then she had a long holiday, explored London, and caught up with many friends and family. She even hitchhiked in France with a friend. “Then I bought a car and was about to take up a job in a London hospital, and I decided that I really wanted to be back home with Erich.” However, she decided to come back to New Zealand on one condition: “I said, ‘I’m not going to continue to live on my parent’s doorstep unmarried. If we come back together, we’re getting married.’ And we did.”
Erich and Carol married on 21 September 1964. Erich had taken over a general practice in Petone from a doctor who was retiring, so she joined him there.
Early in their relationship, while Carol was a final year student, Erich had involved Carol in his interest in medical politics. Erich started publishing a medical newsletter. in which he wrote critically on issues of the day. It “came out fortnightly. He [Erich] printed it on a Letraset printing press in our front room, in a flat in Kelburn.” Carol explained that she learned to touch type at this time as she did a lot of the typing for the newsletter. It was circulated to nearly 1000 doctors throughout New Zealand.
After some years, Erich, with some of these doctors, founded an alternative medical association, the NZMA, which had “six or seven hundred members and again went on publishing a regular newsletter, now called the NZMA NEWS, from 1970 to 1975.”
Both Erich and Carol spoke at public meetings, wrote articles, and participated in TV discussions about medical issues of the time including abortion, contraception, sex education and the shortage of doctors. With Carol’s help, Erich also wrote several books on these issues including If Doctors Grew on Trees, which criticised the failure of the government to fund an Auckland Medical School and SPUC ’em All about the abortion issue.
In 1969, after Carol’s father Tom Shand died, her mother Claudia bought a house at 5 Upland Road, Kelburn and returned to general practice, setting up a ‘family practice’ with Carol and Erich who shifted from Petone. After 3 years of Claudia working together with them, she married Beau Cottrell a long-time family friend and moved to Christchurch. Erich and Carol continued the practice as the Upland Road Medical Centre and after Erich retired Penny Clifford joined Carol and was later also joined by Charles Blades when the practice was renamed as the Kelburn Medical Centre. Carol worked in Kelburn as a GP until she retired in 2017 and the practice moved to 1 Upland Road becoming the Kelburn Northland Medical Centre.
Carol had a busy GP-obstetric practice providing family based medical care for men and women of all ages from babies to the elderly. When she retired, she invited all her patients to share a cup of tea with her over a weekend, and several hundred came over two days; some who had been patients since Petone days and many with 3 generations of the same family.
Specialising in Women’s Health: Istar & the Wellington Sexual Assault HELP Foundation
Because there were so few women general practitioners, Carol often was consulted by women with issues they did not feel comfortable discussing with male GPs, in particular contraception, unwanted pregnancies from failed contraception, menopause, and sexual assault. “Carol found that the conservative view of it not being ethical to give contraceptive advice to the unmarried went against all her personal and clinical experience as in her view it was this very group who needed it most.”
Therefore, as a GP she was outspoken about women’s health issues, starting with contraception for the unmarried and later extending this to abortion service in the 1980s following the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act. Before this act, abortion was illegal; the only exceptions being in case law which interpreted abortion as legal to safe the life of the mother. In the early days, she had to refer her patients to clinics in Australia to have an abortion. An NZMA survey of GPs they carried out showed that the majority of general practitioners were in support of liberalising abortion because they were the ones seeing these women. Carol was employed as an operating doctor in the abortion service at Wellington Hospital from 1980 to 2016.
In 1999, Carol, Margaret Sparrow, Diana Edwards, John Tait, and Peter Stone established a pharmaceutical company, Istar, which is a not-for-profit company that imports Mifegyne® (mifepristone) – the abortion pill, from France, as no established pharmaceutical firm was willing to import it. Profits from the company are given to research and support for women’s health services in New Zealand. Carol recounted that this company was extremely busy during the COVID lockdowns, as the requests for medication abortions increased by 50%.
Another issue which presented to her in general practice because she was a woman doctor was sexual assault. In 1985, she helped establish and became a trustee and rostered doctor for the Wellington Sexual Assault HELP Foundation, which provided medical assistance and counselling to those who have experienced sexual assault. She was one of a small group of women doctors on-call to examine and treat any complainant of a sexual assault in the Wellington area, working closely with the police and support services. She was also a founding member and later was president of the Doctors for Sexual Abuse Case (DSAC). DSAC (now called MEDSAC) trains and supports services that provide medical care to sexual abuse victims; men, women and children. As part of this, Carol helped develop training manuals for doctors working in this area and worked closely with the police to make changes in their responses. Carol was invited to be the Patron of Wing 217 of police trainees at the Police College in Porirua. Carol became a Fellow of the Chapter of Sexual Health Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and a Fellow of the RNZ College of General Practice. Due to her work in the field of women’s health and the many contributions she made, Carol was named Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2008.
Outside the Medical World
Carol and Erich have three children together, Karl Thomas Geiringer born 19 July 1967, Claudia Geiringer born 21 September 1968, and Felix Egmont Geiringer born 6 December 1971. Karl followed in his parent’s footsteps and is also a general practitioner in Wellington; Claudia is currently a Law Commissioner on leave from her role as a professor of law at Victoria University of Wellington; and Felix is a high-profile barrister in Wellington. Carol and Erich raised the three children in the house she still resides in on Braithwaite Street, Karori. It is well known for the beautiful garden that she and her gardener, Gael, have been tending over the years. The garden has many New Zealand natives and bog plants. Each summer for over 40 years there was a play staged in the garden, frequently an Aristophanes comedy, with live music and costumes and sets designed by friends. Carol herself plays the cello, making regular chamber music at Braithwaite Street and often as part of the garden plays. Erich passed away in 1995.
Green, Ann, Virtue Leads, Fortune Follows: A Short History of the Shand Family from Scotland to New Zealand, Rotorua, 2013.
Shand, Carol, Things I remember – or have been told. Writes Hill Press, Wellington, 2022