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Girton150 Profiles: Nursing at Girton

Lisa Jones 2018 Jacqui Isbister 2008

The role of the Nurses at Girton College has changed over the years. After looking back through the archives and asking as many people from the College community as possible the first records were found dating back to 1896 and recorded a nurse, A.L Clark, who was employed by Girton Village including the College. She was paid by the teachers and students at the College and as well as her nursing duties helped in the village with “mothers’ meetings for needlework, reading and general conversation”.

A hospital wing was first added to the College in 1876 and this included a ‘hospital’ with patients room and accommodation for a nurse. Index cards recording nursing work done by Girtonians during the first World War, have been uncovered along with publicity photos, dating back to the second World War showing students enacting the role of nurses at the time.

Nursing at Girton, as in society has evolved over time, but the first actual nurse that could be located, who worked for the College, started in 1986. This role was filled by Gill Sore; Penny Whittle joined her in 1991. The following is a brief outline of their experiences then:

“In 1986, when I joined Girton College, we were employed to be on call 24/7 – we had bleeps – and were paid 50p/hour and worked alternate weekends.

The ‘sick bay’ as it was called then, had just moved to its present location in the Old Labs (Old Wing). It was previously located in the Admissions and Tutorial Offices. Back then we wore uniforms and were often called nurse or nursey!

We looked after students, post grads, staff and during interview seasons, the candidates, as well. We held surgeries every morning and evening including Saturdays mornings.

A great deal of our information would come from staff, especially the ‘Bedders’, who would call to alert us of any students who were ill, or causing concerns in other ways. We used the University Counselling service as Girton did not have a dedicated counsellor, but we were always there to lend a listening ear for all Freshers and students alike.

The process was such that all students had to physically go to a GP to enroll in the practice. One of our busiest times was Easter term due to exam stress. We ‘guarded’ those who had to be held incommunicado for medical reasons and who took exams at different times. Students often went AWOL during exam times and it was our job to locate them. Sometimes even the police were involved, and one student was found hiding in the Grange Cellars. We always attended Graduation day and provided first aid at the March Ball.”

There have been a lot of changes over the years, both in nursing in general and the role of the College nurse. The focus now being much more on Health promotion and prevention of ill health. The change of our name from ‘Sick Bay’ to Health and Welfare Centre reflects this. We now run daily surgeries and this academic year have had over 300 consultations. We deal with a wide variety of conditions – minor illness, sports injuries, sexual health, anxiety and depression.

We are members of the Cambridge College Nurse Association (CCNA) and attend regular twice termly meetings. This is a good opportunity to support the University nursing community and work towards improving professional standards and job satisfaction.  The CCNA also arranges training. This year, so far, we have done Annual resuscitation update, Mental health, sexual health and contraception, clinical supervision to name but a few. We attend reflective practice sessions in smaller groups in order to support each other and some of us sit on other University committees such as the Committee for Communicable Diseases and Health and Wellbeing.

Our role as nurses has changed dramatically in the former part of 2020 due to the global pandemic (COVID-19). As the country has gone into lockdown, with schools and universities closing countrywide as well as working from home being encouraged, we have had to adapt to a new and very different style of working. As nurses, we can no longer run our usual surgeries or have face to face consultations with our students. As a result, we have started to work remotely, learning how to use Zoom and other online communication tools to consult with our students and other Girton faculties.

Girton College is really pulling together in this very difficult time, where teamwork has shone through. We may still be in the middle of the pandemic, but as nurses we have risen to the challenge, continue to support our students albeit remotely, and look forward to the day we can open our surgery doors again.

The current nurses, Jacqui Isbister (2008) and Lisa Jones (2018) are always looking at continued improvements that can be made to fit in with the needs and wishes of the students. One common theme running through every nurse that has worked at Girton is that it is a lovely place to work and they have all loved their roles.

For more information about Health & Welfare at Girton, visit here.