A major part of the student nurse's training was spent on the hospital wards where they were instructed by their peers in every aspect of nursing patients in the hospital setting. Except for their time in the preliminary school, student nurses were based in wards apart from study days when they attended lectures.
The nursing staff structure on the wards comprised fully trained nurses - a ward sister or charge nurse, and one or more staff nurses. These senior ranks oversaw the student nurses: junior, middle and senior nurses. The student nurses were very much hands-on and provided direct patient care. As each student nurse gained more clinical experience their responsibilities increased too. They received salaries for their contribution, and these too increased in stages over the three years of student nursing.
The running of the hospital depended on an increasingly large student workforce.
When the Wellington Hospital School of Nursing wound up, student nurses were replaced by trained staff and consequently the costs of nursing increased significantly. Nurses in training at either the Polytech or University-based schools had relatively short postings on the hospital wards or in community settings for their clinical experience.