Gill hangs up her uniform after 45 years

Gill Miller on her last day. Image shows her holding a balloon that says Happy Retirement.

Published 3 August 2022

A nurse who has worked at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital for more than half of its existence has finally hung up her uniform.

Gill Miller, 64, trained at the hospital before joining the team in 1977 as a newly qualified nurse, and has worked in the emergency department, minor injury unit and urgent treatment centre ever since.

She had only ever intended to do a few months of nursing before retaking her A-levels and studying to become a vet, but 45 years later does not regret her choice.

The grandmother of seven said: “I remember walking up the hill for my first day in the emergency department and I can honestly say I was absolutely dreading it.

“But by the time I walked back down the hill after my shift I knew that was where I wanted to work.

“I consider myself a bit of a jack of all trades, which is what you need to work in emergency care. I admire specialist nurses but for me I love the fact I have no idea what is going to happen that day and what sort of injuries I will have to treat.”

When Gill started, nurses wore starched white hats and aprons, there were no computers, and all patients who presented in the emergency department had their details entered into a giant ledger that was completed by receptionists and nurses.

All notes were handwritten and someone who broke their leg could find themselves in hospital for three months in traction.

Smoking was permitted on wards and in staff areas, and patients were often prescribed whiskey or other spirits, which were dispensed by nurses on the evening drug rounds.

Gill said: “Looking back, sometimes I wonder whether I imagined it all because it is so different now.

“Patients had ash trays on their lockers and at times it was like being a barmaid; going round handing out drinks and emptying their ash trays.

“I can remember when we got the first computer, which was just used for a list of patients. But it was limited in space and so any extra ones couldn’t be added!”

She has experienced several major incidents, including the tragic death of dozens of people in the back of a lorry in 2000, and the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987, as well as car accidents and even shootings.

Gill said: “There have been some really tough times, and days when I have been in tears. It has been hugely difficult.

“But there is always something we can do as nurses, and that something is always better than nothing.

“I have always been able to leave work at work, and as a team we do talk about things together and offload. Bottling things up never helps anyone.”

Gill worked as matron before retiring four years ago, only to return to work in the urgent treatment centre part-time.

She said: “That was only meant to be for a year, but then Covid came along and I couldn’t walk away then.

“For the first time in my career I was scared, because I had parents in their 90s and a husband in his 70s, and I didn’t know what I might be taking home to them.

“We had no vaccine and we didn’t really know what we were dealing with and it was frightening.

“But it reinforced the fact that we never stop learning, and we never know what will come in the door – even now, after 45 years, I still see injuries or cases I haven’t seen before.”

Gill is now looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, who range in age from four to 16, as well as having a manicure and enjoying her garden.