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Newham Hospital is where I ‘grew up’

In the second of our series looking back over Newham Hospital s 40 decades, we hear from Steve, who began his nursing training in Newham in 1984.

In 1984 I started my nursing training at Newham Hospital. I’ll always remember my first placement being on Beckton Ward. When I started, I was nervous but excited – I’d always wanted to be a nurse and to have it finally happening was both brilliant and terrifying!

After my placement on Beckton Ward, I rotated around to other wards, where I continued my training. I worked in a lot of different wards including Plashet and West Ham and I did a stint in theatres and the emergency department too. I was also involved in clinical trials, which has left me with a long-term interest in research.

When I finished my training, I took up a job on Plashet ward, where I stayed for three years. I then left the hospital – and the NHS in a way – to join The Royal Navy, where I served as a nurse for 28 years. My final role before retiring in 2018 was Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff Health and Head of the Naval Nursing Service, which is also known as Matron-in-Chief.

During my time in the Navy I served all around the world –Africa, the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Far East. But despite this, despite everything I’ve seen and experienced in so many different countries, it’s my time and experiences at Newham Hospital that I draw on the most as a nurse.

Now, nearly 40 years later, I still refer to my time at Newham Hospital, both as a student and as a qualified nurse, as where I ‘grew up’. I learned so much while training and working there which has helped to me over time.

“I loved the people there”

Training at Newham then had its challenges, but I loved the people there. It was endlessly diverse and the blend of race, religion and culture among staff and patients was stimulating. I came across so many new cultures during my time there, from people from the Hasidic Jewish community to Buddhist monks and the whole LGBTQI spectrum. I’ll always remember a patient from my first placement who had AIDs. At the time I was totally naïve about homosexuality and homosexual lifestyles, but with great humour and some gentle teasing he took it upon himself to educate me about worlds I had no idea existed. He called me his little project, at least one nurse who might understand his world.

Steve and his fellow trainee nurses at Newham in the 1980s

Steve, third from the left, and his fellow nurse trainees at Newham Hospital in 1984.

I also worked with some amazing nurses whose lessons I still repeat today. One surgical sister had been a sister for 20 years on the same ward, as it moved from one hospital to another. She was like a Chameleon, adopting different persona to deal with different patients, junior doctors and consultants. I was so impressed by that, and the fact that at the end of a shift she would invite me into the office and ask me how my day had gone.

My father was very skeptical of nursing as a career and did not believe I was doing well. I remember one of the matrons in ED learning about this and so she organised for a number of people to write testimonies and sent them all to my parents!!! For me this showed the sense of family at Newham Hospital back then – a young hospital with a young team finding its way but pushing each other to learn both clinically and culturally.

“I want to do some shifts on Plashet Ward!”

Even though I've retired from the Navy, I’m still a practicing nurse. I do one shift a week as a band 5 on a coronary care unit in Southampton General. I also provide life support training for a private company, which recently saw me delivering some immediate life support courses to colleagues in ELFT at the mental health unit on Cherry Way.

It brought back so many memories being in Newham again, seeing the hospital and how it’s changed and hasn’t changed at the same time. I can’t quite believe it’s 40 years since it opened its doors and nearly 40 years since I worked there. Being back there in the area again made me miss it and want to do some shifts on Plashet Ward if I can. It also reminds me that it’s nearly 40 years since I started my training which is crazy!

I celebrate 40 years as a nurse next year and I turn 60 too. As it happens, I share my birthday with the NHS! I’ll be turning 59 on Wednesday 5 July, and I couldn’t be prouder to share it with such a brilliant organisation that gave me so much.

Steve as a naval nurse

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