This International Nurses Day, Elizabeth Eddy shares her amazing journey through nursing, which she began in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the 80s.
Working and living on the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, right next to St Paul’s Cathedral was amazing - at 19 years of age, I thought I’d arrived!
I began my nursing training at Barts Hospital in 1982, after not getting into medical school. Through an apprenticeship style, I was trained through a very practical way and by 1985 I was qualified.
My parents certainly played a huge role in inspiring my career in healthcare, as they both trained and worked at Barts Hospital. My father David Eddy was a doctor and my mother, Priscilla Gaunt, was a nurse and midwife. Coincidentally they met on the same ward in which I would later begin my first placement, Annie Zunz.
My sister and I were both born at Barts Hospital, after this, my mother stepped down from nursing and my father went on to become a cardiologist.
I have very fond memories of working there and the quality of training that I received was second to none - it’s never left me. Barts taught me to be the best, we didn’t compromise on quality, we created the best staff so that we could give the best care. I have carried that with me in everything that I do. I was always encouraged to think for myself and do the best for patient and patients come first, because that’s why we were there.
I was told to carry everything on a tray as it’s safer and easier to put a tray down than four things down in the case of an emergency. We also learned to make 28 beds each morning and how to do a bed bath; changing a bed with a patient in it. This may seem quite basic, but they are essential nursing skills.
In those days, we didn’t have digital equipment to take patient observations and everything was done manually. But this meant that we had to check up on a patient regularly, talk to them and hold their hands to take their pulse, so it felt more personal. Standing next to a patient means you can constantly review and assess a patient, by their appearance and body language, and as a nurse it’s your duty to know what’s happening with a patient and respond to that.
In my second year, I had the honour of nursing Vicky Clement-Jones, spending long nights listening to her planning BACCUP (British Association for Cancer United Patients), the beginning of the cancer support networks.
My ward sister on Annie Zunz was very revolutionary and encouraged us to sit on patient’s beds. I felt this was very important and effective as nursing is a caring and intimate profession. Also on this ward, we were visited by a psychologist for 20 minutes each week to discuss any difficult experiences we had with patients.
My colleagues and I also had each other to lean on. Sharing your experience with people who understand is a good coping mechanism. We worked very hard, but we also played very hard. They were special times, and I am still in touch with the nurses that I trained with.
You need to be able to give a lot of yourself to empathise with patients and show them that you care, and it’s difficult at times to deal with some of the hard hitting situations that you face as a nurse.
Barts Hospital was very cutting edge, and as part of the work force, I saw many intriguing things, including a hermaphrodite. I also witnessed some extreme operations such as vulvectomies, as we didn’t have the medication in those days to shrink tumours. Watching patients heal wounds from such procedures could be horrific. We also used a lot of new drugs, some of which had very bad side effects on patients and that could be very hard to deal with. Although tough, I believe it showed that we were constantly pushing the boundaries on healthcare at Barts.
Our uniforms were long stripe dresses in a denim like material with a detachable collar, and a small cotton hat which we would clip to our hair, it was like doing origami with a starched handkerchief. We would carry them around on a shortbread tin in our bags to wear every day.
I felt very attached to the hospital and you identified a lot with the set of nurses that you belonged to, and we had a lot of pride instilled in us.
I had an amazing nursing career for 40 years, including being a senior leader in primary care and national roles working across government departments.
I have worked with Tony Blair and Allan Milburn and The House of Lords to help set up NHS Jobs , NHS careers and help get apprenticeships frameworks recognised across the NHS.
I retired from nursing in my mid 50s but during the pandemic the NHS reached out to nurses like me asking if we would come back to help. I then returned to university to get back on the nursing register officially. During the pandemic I worked for Test and Trace and administrating chemotherapy to cancer patients.
Coming out of retirement I am now "living the dream" working as a band 5 district nurse, providing care to patients at home. am a I’m extremely passionate about the provision of the best possible patient experience, to help them in their journey to living healthy and happy lives.
I never knew that being a nurse would take me on the amazing journey that it has. It is an extremely rewarding profession, and I truly feel that I make a difference in people’s lives.
A lot has changed in healthcare over the last 40 years, but a patient’s worries, anxieties and fears have and always will remain the same.