Growing up in Jamaica, Yvonne Davis always thought she would be a teacher.
But after moving to the UK aged 17, and seeing the differences between the English school system and what she was used to, she changed her mind.
Instead, she chose nursing as a career and started working at the William Harvey Hospital on the first night it opened.
Now as one of the ward managers of the intensive care unit, Yvonne has no regrets about swapping pupils for patients.
She said: “I love being in critical care, and the fact that you don’t know what is coming through the door.
“It is a mix of medical, surgery, trauma, cardiac – you get to see everything.
“We also had some paediatrics when I first started so there really was a variety. I enjoy the technical side as well and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Moving to England was a culture shock, literally, for teenage Yvonne; as well as the school system the weather and environment proved a challenge.
She said: “I didn’t want to come to England, I cried my eyes out.
“I was used to the sun, the sea, and although I arrived in August so when I got off the plane it wasn’t too cold, I still felt it.
“On the drive from Heathrow to Kent, all I could see was green, no blue at all, and I just didn’t know how I was going to cope with it.”
Yvonne was one of the founding members of East Kent Hospitals’ Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups (BAME) network and is still an active member.
She said: “It was difficult to start with as a black nurse, but things have thankfully changed. There is still a bit of unconscious bias and I am always quick to point that out.
“There is still work to do, for example there are no BAME nurses in the highest bands. It is not because they are not capable so what is it?
“I think since the coronavirus pandemic people are more aware of BAME issues and I am hopeful we are still moving in the right direction.”
Coronavirus brought its own personal challenges for Yvonne, who was in a clinically vulnerable group because she is living with lupus.
It meant she had to shield at home, while her colleagues cared for covid patients on the unit.
She said: “I wasn’t here to experience it at its worst but I can imagine what it was like.
“Coming back and going into full personal protective equipment was tough.
“But I felt awful because my colleagues were here in the midst of it all and I was at home.”
Yvonne was able to provide emotional support to the nurses on the unit from home, and also helped colleagues by interviewing new staff, and completing vital health and safety paperwork.
But she still feels guilty she was not able to support them in person.
She said: “I knew some of them were struggling with the psychological effects of what they were dealing with, and it was a help to be able to offer some emotional support.
“I felt like I was still doing something, even if I wasn’t able to stand with them. We are a team and we support each other so I was just glad to be able to play a small part.”