It was 40 years ago when Karen Banham first proudly donned her nursing hat.
Her father was not keen to let her join the police force and her teacher said she would make a good nurse, and so it was decided that she would apply to attend the Queen Elizabeth School of Nursing.
“I loved it from day one,” said Karen, who now works as a sister in the Leyburn district nursing team.
“I remember getting on the train. You had to have a certain type of suitcase and the shoes you had to wear were very particular. I remember walking into the nurses’ home and meeting the matron and tentatively looking down the corridor to see if anyone else was there.
“The next morning we all had breakfast together and then we were walked to the school of nursing. Our nails and hair were inspected and they handed out our hats telling us we were privileged young ladies to wear them.
“We all walked back wearing our new hats, we thought we were the bees’ knees!”
When asked to describe the nurses’ home she fondly compares it to something from Call the Midwife:
“In those days you had to starch your uniform and your hats and we all helped each other out. The camaraderie was great.”
Karen, 59, started her career among the hustle and bustle of city life in Birmingham.
She worked in cardiothoracic services and intensive care, witnessing the excitement of the hospital’s first heart transplant.
She moved to community services in 1986 undertaking many roles within community. She became continence service manager and later took on the role of community matron for long-term conditions.
She relocated to North Yorkshire in 2012 with a plan to reduce her hours, but eight years later she is still working full time for South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and showing no signs of slowing down.
Karen worked shifts on Romanby, Allerton and Ainderby wards and the clinical decisions unit at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton before returning to community services in 2013, first at Richmond and then to her current GP surgery base at Leyburn.
Community nursing in a rural area brought with it its own challenges from getting to patients’ homes through adverse weather conditions to tackling traffic jams caused by flocks of sheep.
Karen is certainly no stranger to walking three miles or hitching a lift on a farmer’s quad bike to reach a patient’s home.
Only a few weeks ago she had to tackle flooded roads and fields to reach those in the most remote locations when storm Dennis hit the region.
Karen loves community nursing as it tests all the skills she has acquired over the years. One minute she can be treating a surgical wound, the next she is attending to a long term patient with a chronic condition.
“You are on your own a lot so you have to be organised and be able to think on your feet. But you can make such a difference to people’s lives.”
She says a lot has changed over 40 years: “When we did ward rounds back then we did not speak to the consultants, we followed with a tray of tea. It was all very strict.
“When I was first district nursing it was a lot more hands on with the social care side of things such as washing and caring for patients.
“We are now trained to give patients IV antibiotics at home and end of life care and I was one of the first nurse prescribers back in 2004.
“Nursing has changed but I still love it. The patients are lovely, they make our job so easy, but I also love helping the next generation of nurses.”
Her advice to future nurses is simple: “Make every moment count – it goes in a blink.”
Thousands of patients across the country will be thankful that that Karen did not run off and join the police force 40 years ago because her teacher was right – she was born to be a nurse.