In 1971, I was lucky enough to be able to study nursing at Mount Vernon and Harefield Hospital Schools of Nursing.

Towards the end of my first year of nursing, I was allocated to Harefield Hospital; a place that I loved as soon as I saw it.

The nursing services in the hospital were run by a very strict, no nonsense matron, Miss Froud, who retired after a few months of my placement at Harefield. On reflection, the hospital operated very well under her leadership. She also kept a strict eye on the Nurses’ Home and all student nurses had to be in their rooms by 10pm. Of course, some who lived on the ground floor were able to access rooms after curfew through their windows!

My first allocation at Harefield was on the male acute medical ward, where patients who had suffered heart attacks were admitted. I learnt a lot about the patients and their illnesses.

I experienced seeing the death of a patient – my first experience – and I can recall how important it was to have the support and leadership I received from my mentor, a third-year student nurse.

My next placement was on the women’s ward. The ward sister was very strict, but it was because she cared about the patients very much. Again, I learnt a great deal – the ward sister demonstrated how nursing procedures were performed and as a student, I was allowed to perform some simple procedures.

As I progressed through my three years of nursing studies, I was rostered to work night duty. I was allocated to a busy acute medical ward, where patients who had suffered a heart attack were admitted.

Lynsey, a third year nurse, was in charge, as well as an Auxiliary Nurse (known today as a Health Care Assistant), who was much older than the student nurses and very experienced.  We were also overseen by a Peripatetic Night Sister who did rounds at specific times.

But one night when Lynsey was on her break, I was left in charge with the Auxiliary Nurse and, needless to say, I was very scared. There were two patients being monitored on cardiac monitors, and at that point in my nurse training, I didn’t feel very confident with the monitors.

As I did my rounds to ensure that the patients were safe, I found that one patient, who was disorientated, was missing from his bed. I went to investigate, only to be pounced upon from a walk in cupboard by the patient! I screamed very loudly waking up all the patients, but was soon supported by the Auxiliary Nurse, who was able to calm him and get the patient back to bed!

- Helen Hearn