Elsie Leipst - Save the Children’s first Kiwi nurse in the field

“You have done those hard tasks with your whole heart and soul” – commendation from the Mayor and Citizens of Masan, Korea

Sir Edmund Hillary once said, ‘People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things’. For Save the Children’s first New Zealand nurse sent to the field, Sister Elsie Leipst, certainly accomplished many “extraordinary things”.

Born in 1921, Elsie dedicated her career to nursing, training at Hastings Hospital, qualifying in 1942, before completing further training in maternity and Plunket care. Over her 41-year nursing career, she worked in New Zealand and around the world – nursing abroad for nine years in 10 different countries.

In 1960, then a nursing sister in Hastings Memorial Hospital, she was sent to Masan, South Korea, on a two year placement with Save the Children.

On arriving in Masan, she wrote:

“All this week I have been in the wing helping to look after the 88 children. Some three-year-olds look like six-months-old children, and as if they don’t know how to smile.

“One child between 4 and 5 years looks only 15-months-old, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her sitting with a large bowl of rice feeding herself. Even the spoon looked too heavy for her. Others are as fat as any New Zealand child, and well on the way to going home…

”There is a very strong family tie. A 15-year-old lad came miles to the clinic with his five-year-old sister. She had a temperature of 105 degrees, and was very ill with typhoid fever. Each day he comes to visit her and tell her stories.

“I’m starting to learn Korean in earnest this week, as it will make it easier to speak to the children.”

During her time in Masan, Elsie was instrumental in not only doing home visits door to door taking care of the country’s sick children but also establishing a maternal health clinic to educate mothers on health, hygiene and nutrition.

Elsie died on 21 August 2021, aged 100 years, but her dedication to Save the Children’s work will long be remembered.

You can listen to an interview with Elsie about her 41-year nursing career, including the time she spent in Korea here: https://knowledgebank.org.nz/audio/leipst-elsie-isabella-interview/