Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patricia Violet Slater (1918–1990)

by Richard Trembath

This article was published:

Patricia Violet Slater (1918-1990), nurse educator, was born on 16 December 1918 at St Kilda, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born parents Edward Brunton Slater, civil engineer, and his wife Violet, née Podmore. Educated (1926-36) at Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (the Hermitage), Geelong, Pat began her nursing training at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital in 1937, followed by additional training in adult nursing at the Alfred Hospital. She subsequently completed a midwifery certificate at the Royal Women’s Hospital (1942) and an infant welfare certificate at the Karitane Home, Sydney (1947).

In 1943-47, during and after World War II, Slater served as a lieutenant in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force. She nursed in hospitals in Victoria and Queensland and in 1945-46 with the 2/4th Australian General Hospital and 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station on Morotai and Labuan islands, Netherlands East Indies. After the war she worked and travelled throughout Australia, Britain and Europe until 1955, when she started teaching nursing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Slater was unusual among her generation of nurses in obtaining advanced qualifications. She completed a diploma in nurse education (1956) from the Melbourne-based College of Nursing, Australia. In 1959 she was awarded a Centaur war nurses’ memorial scholarship to study in Seattle, United States of America, at the University of Washington (B.Sc. Nursing, MA, 1961). Her master’s thesis examined the growth of hospitals and nursing in colonial Australia. While overseas, she also won a Rockefeller fellowship (1961) to visit university nursing schools in North America and Europe. She concluded that the Australian system of training nurses in an apprenticeship system was outmoded.

Returning to Melbourne, Slater became a fellow (1960) and part-time lecturer (1963) at the College of Nursing, which at that time offered only advanced training courses. She rose rapidly at the college and was appointed director in 1965. It was in this role that Slater made her enduring contribution to Australian nursing, helping to transform nurse education from a hospital-based system to undergraduate programs within tertiary institutions. In 1974 the college established Australia’s first undergraduate nurse-education course. Slater’s commitment to tertiary education for nurses was fuelled by her belief that a modern health system demanded that they be better trained. It was also inspired by social justice considerations:  no longer could hospitals rely on cheap trainee labour, and doctors would not be able to ‘lord it over’ nurses. Slater was appointed OBE (1975) and a fellow (1977) of the Australian College of Education.

In 1977 the College of Nursing merged with the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences, forming a College of Advanced Education with Slater the inaugural head of the school of nursing (1977-83). After retiring she was seconded to the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Commission (1984-85) to consider arrangements for the transfer of all nursing-education programs to higher education institutes. Slater also undertook several important consultancies in Australia and Thailand. Her reports and papers were marked by clear writing, firm argument and sound historical knowledge. In what spare time was available, she worked on a history of the Royal College of Nursing (as it had become), a task she did not live to complete.

Dynamic and gregarious, a lover of conversation, theatre, bushwalking and beach holidays, Slater died of leukaemia on 2 August 1990 in Melbourne and was cremated. She bequeathed a substantial portion of her estate to the Royal College of Nursing, which named an award in her honour.

Select Bibliography

  • J. and B. Bessant, The Growth of a Profession (1991)
  • A. J. Davis, Honouring the Past and Shaping the Future (1993)
  • R. G. Smith, In Pursuit of Nursing Excellence (1999)
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Science (, accessed 23 August 2010, copy held on ADB file
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 July 1959, p 8
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 April 1961, p 14
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 June 1962, p 10
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 December 1977, p 3
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 December 1983, p 2
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 July 1968, p 18
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 May 1980, p 8
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 17 October 1973, p 54
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, item VX133052
  • personal knowledge

Citation details

Richard Trembath, 'Slater, Patricia Violet (1918–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 December, 1918
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


2 August, 1990 (aged 71)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (leukemia)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.