By Liz Crudgington
Regulation knickers and a hospital surrounded by cabbage fields – the QEQM was a very different place when Judith King started working as a student nurse in September 1979.
Half the current hospital had not been built and the office she now sits in as endoscopy clinical performance manager was part of the nurses’ home.
During her 40-year career she has worked in wards from intensive care to general medicine, caring for thousands of patients and their families.
And despite her long service she has no immediate plans to retire, instead continuing to focus on making a difference to patients every day.
Judith, who lives in Margate, said: “It was hard work on the wards but I really enjoyed it and I still love my job.
“I would say to anyone starting out now to go for it, if you really want to do it. It is difficult, and heart-breaking at times, but you can be laughing hysterically the next moment because something funny has happened.”
In 1979, as a student nurse with Canterbury and Thanet School of Nursing, NHS managers advised Judith and her colleagues to buy navy blue knickers from Marks & Spencer to wear under their uniforms.
They had to wear their capes outside the hospital if they were wearing their hat – and if they had no hat on then they had to wear a black mac, below the knee, over their uniforms.
For 18-year-old Judith, it was the culmination of a childhood dream to become a nurse and even her first weeks in intensive care did not put her off.
She said: “It was not the same as it is these days. I think it was the best grounding I could have had because once you have looked after sick patients like that, nothing else fazes you.”
Judith was part of the team from the hospital who attended the collapse of the Sally Line gangway at the Port of Ramsgate, where six people died and others were seriously hurt.
There were no computers, so all notes were hand-written, and beds were raised or lowered by turning a handle. A foot pedal was later introduced but now all beds can be adjusted at the touch of a button.
After becoming junior sister, then ward manager, Judith took on her current role in May 2018, using her clinical skills to help the booking team ensure patients are prioritised and treated quickly.
She said: “It is lovely that I still get to work with patients. I also look after complaints and even then if I can make someone know they have been listened to then I know I am making a difference.
“You do learn to develop a harder shell, just so you can continue to function. You learn that even if your favourite patient has died, you have 29 others to look after so take five minutes and a cup of coffee then walk back out with a smile on your face.
“I do think it’s harder now for the ward staff as patients are living longer and are sicker. When I started, if we had a 90 year old the whole hospital would hear about it; now we treat 100-year-old patients successfully.
“But the job hasn’t changed – it’s still about looking after people and trying to make things better.”