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One of Britain's longest-serving nurses reflects on 60 years in the profession

  • 6 Comments

When Jenny Turner first started nursing she was frightened of the doctors, frightened of the ward sister and frightened of the women who polished the hospital floors.

Now aged 76 and one of the UK’s longest-serving nurses, she says the thing keeping her awake at night is the thought of revalidation.

“Manual handling wasn’t something you thought about in the 60s”

Jenny Turner

Nursing has changed a great deal since Ms Turner became a nurse cadet in 1956 at the age of 16. She only went to sit the test because a school friend was doing it but got through her cadetship and embarked on nurse training at Cheltenham General Hospital when she turned 18.

Now after 60 years in the profession, she told Nursing Times she has no plans to retire and still does up to three bank shifts a week at North Cotswolds Hospital in Moreton-in-Marsh, run by Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust.

While she believes nursing was harder “manually and physically” back in the 50s and 60s, today there are different challenges linked to the changing nature of the public’s relationship with the NHS and increased expectations.

“I sometimes find the relatives quite challenging – much more so than they ever were,” admits Ms Turner. “Back in those days they would accept what the nurses and doctors said was right but not these days. They Google everything and question you all the time.”

Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust

One of Britain’s longest-serving nurses reflects on her career

Jenny Turner during the 1960s

Nevertheless, she is all in favour of an open and honest culture in the health service, recalling the times when it was taboo to question a superior or raise concerns.

“You were frightened to talk to the doctors half the time. You were frightened to question anything,” she says. “You were frightened of the sisters and even frightened to death of the ward maids. They polished the floors, which were wood in those days, and would report back to sister if you had spilt anything on the ward.

“You were just frightened, which isn’t good. They gave you good training but I don’t think the young girls now would stand for it,” she said. “When we started training our tutor sat down and said ‘Just remember – you are the scum of the earth, the lowest of the low’ and we never questioned that at all.”

Now she tells nursing students on placements never to be afraid to ask questions. “I do give them a bit of advice,” she says. “I tell them there will be bad times but you have to focus on the good times and to be receptive to advice – to take it in and try and act on it.”

As well as changes in attitudes, Ms Turner has seen changes in hospital environments and equipment. The 22-bed community hospital where she currently works is entirely single room accommodation and this is something Ms Turner, who was the sister on a 40-bed surgical ward at Cheltenham General, has had to get used to.

“The biggest difference is the walking,” she says. “You’re walking much more than you did when you had a ward because you’re in and out of the rooms all of the time. I’ve got a pedometer and I walk about six of seven kilometres a shift. I did think it was going to be difficult but I have adapted to it. Patients can sleep better and we can give them more privacy because they’re in single rooms.”

Ms Turner is seen as a “fountain of knowledge” by medical and nursing colleagues alike, according to matron Linda Edwards who has worked with her for about 10 years.

“She’s a very caring nurse, very compassionate with the patients with a very good bedside manner. She’s full of energy,” says Ms Edwards. “Because Jenny has been nursing a long time she is very knowledgeable about different conditions and medicine, so even if you get something slightly unusual she will have come across it or heard of it.

“She works very closely with the doctors – it is very much a partnership – and other nurses who are less experienced look up to her,” she says. ”Junior and senior staff respect her.”

Another big change has been the increasing use of technology and innovations like electronic patient records, notes Ms Turner.

“Gradually all the paperwork has gone so everything is done on the computer,” she says. “I am getting to grips with it, although I did find it difficult to start with. My younger colleagues who are into computers really helped me. I can see the benefit.”

She notes that there is more mandatory training now and an emphasis on continuous professional development.

“When I finished my training that was it – you just got your post and carried on but now you have to keep updated with mandatory training like manual handling,” she says. “Manual handling wasn’t something you thought about in the 60s – you just lifted the patient and there were no special beds or equipment like hoists. There were no air mattress.”

She admits the thought of revalidation “is scaring me to death” but says she expects to “probably get over it with a bit of help”. “One of my colleagues printed out a lot of information and I was reading it and thinking ‘oh my goodness’. There is all this paperwork and gathering the evidence. I expect I will come to terms with it. It is assurance for the public. We do all need to keep ourselves updated.”

She says she keeps on nursing quite simply because she enjoys the job and loves working as part of a team as well as meeting and caring for patients. “I am blessed with really good health,” she says.

“In my day you didn’t have rubber gloves, you just had to clean everything and I’m pretty sure that is why I am fit and don’t really get infections. I’m really lucky. The only thing I’ve had to do is get my bunions done and that’s all down to nursing – on your feet all day,” she notes.

Timeline: A 60-year career in nursing

  • 1956 – Became a cadet nurse aged 16, working on the wards at Cheltenham General Hospital
  • 1958 – Embarked on Preliminary Training School at Cheltenham General
  • 1962 – Moved to Edinburgh to train as a midwife at Western General Hospital
  • 1963 – Having decided midwifery is not for her, returns to Gloucestershire to work as a ward sister on the surgical ward at Cheltenham General
  • 1968 - Started a family, working night shifts at the Nuffield Hospital in Cheltenham
  • 1972 –Returned to work full-time at Nuffield Hospital as a staff nurse
  • 1997 – Went to work at Moreton-in-Marsh Community Hospital as a staff nurse
  • 2012 – Services at Moreton-in-Marsh moved to the new North Cotswold Hospital. Was a substantive member of staff but now works on the bank
  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Uplifting and heartwarming story. The type of nurse every patient and colleague would like to be looked after by, to work with and to learn from.

    Revaluation will probably just be a small obstacle for her but nobody in the profession should be intimidated by it or for speaking out for high standards or by bullying, or by those who seek to damage the profession's reputation.

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  • Many congratulations to this and a number of others celebrating their achievements helping people within the NHS. However there does appear to be a trend of publishing similar stories working beyond the historical normal retirement age.

    It would be respectful and give balance if those who died in service were given similar respect as it would seem that increasing numbers are never reaching retirement.

    The current situation looks as though the publication is pandering to government aims of ever increasing retirement age, increasing pension and national insurance payments and paying out less at the end of service to the nation.

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  • What a lovely piece on Jenny. Good for her. Sadly many die or become ill prior to retirement. I have lost many friends and colleagues just as they have retired. I do wonder if carrying on working is more beneficial? However.....I think the government have it worked out that people will die just before or on their retirement so they don't have to pay out! I think I'll just keep going like Jenny ....she's an inspiration!!

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  • What a depressing thought to still be working at 76...........

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  • Congratulations to her.I very much doubt that would be achieved in the modern era.Too much paperwork and interference with the job.Revalidation is an example of this.

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  • go go go....
    I am moving into training at sweet 59. Yes we have to work until we are 66 now but it doesn't have to be all bad news. There are lots of opportunities for lateral moves and more. We haven't shifted form our ageist approach toward work and need to be pro-active in this matter

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