She trained at Wellington Hospital as a nurse in 1885. After 2 years she completed a certificate in nursing in 1887. In 1893, she started the new job of matron of the newly opened Hospital. (Palmerston North Hospital).
She also ran the hospital’s dispensary and formally registered as a pharmacist in 1899 and became head of the hospital’s surgery ward. Ellen gained certificates with distinction in nursing.
In September 1901 New Zealand Government decided to nurse register. That was the first time Nursing professional registration in the world and New Zealand first country to have separate legislation for the registration and regulation of nurses. When the Nurses Registration Act became law in January 1902, nurses who had already trained could apply to have their names entered on the register. Ellen Dougherty was the first to be registered on January 10, 1902. She was the first Registered Nurse in the World. Ellen was greatly admired for her work, dedication and love for nursing.
She died November 3, 1919 and Dougherty is buried at Clareville Cemetery, Carterton, New Zealand. The UK began nurse registration in 1919, the year Ellen Dougherty died.
For the centenary of Nursing, it was arranged with Nursing Council in Wellington that her grave be restored, and on the anniversary of 10 January 2002, the grave was rededicated with family, historians and media attending. Her medal is at the Nurses Chapel at Wellington Hospital.