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Looking back at 40 years of nursing

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40 years after starting her nurse training, nurse practitioner Jane Warner met up with her cohort to recount thier successes, challenges and shared memories

September 1976, and it is the autumn after that really hot summer.

We’ve just started our nurse training. As we line up for a class photograph I’m on the back row somewhere, radiating the shiny-eyed zeal that might later be described as “Blairite”.

Four decades on and a tranche of us reunite, some to celebrate, but others simply to mark the occasion.

The French have a word for it: Tristesse.

It’s that sense of melancholy, a sweet sadness when we think of all we’ve been through, and of the people who guided us on our way when we began to nurse, and those who are no longer with us today.

We must have felt they were terribly old at the time and yet we are far older now than they were then. Life seems to have passed in a blink of an eye. All that remains of those larger than life consultant physicians and surgeons are names on hospital memorial wings.

”There was my genius plan to hide in the sluice until it was decided that someone else would have to administer an actual injection”

Scenes are recounted: the doll that was so far past its sell-by date that during a baby bath demonstration its body parts started to fall off one by one, even though the clinical teacher hadn’t noticed. We talked about ward based practical assessments and the General Nursing Council’s Schedule books. Then there was my genius plan to hide in the sluice until it was decided that someone else would have to administer an actual injection to an actual patient.

Those who have not yet retired are fairly desperate now to have the chance of doing so. We are like the ill-fated Boxer in Animal Farm, repeating that internal mantra that has bedevilled nursing throughout all these 40 years and, I suspect, for a lot longer: “I will work harder.”

Not one of us has achieved professional greatness, and it is unlikely we will ever change the world, but we have kept ourselves up to date and embraced change.

”The expertise we possess has prevented ill health”

We are strong women, whose lives have been challenged in many ways, giving us the wisdom and compassion which may not merit acknowledgement within a tick box culture, but which we use all the time in order to help our patients.

The expertise we possess has prevented ill health, supported patients with long term conditions, and improved the quality of life for those approaching death.

Celebration? I’m still not sure. But we carry on, raise a glass to the past, and toast absent friends.

Jane Warner is a nurse practitioner working in Somerset

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