You may know Ian Robinson as a Project Manager, but for three years he was...

The Man in the White Coat

When Ian Robinson made his first career change, he would still be working with people. The difference was that this time the people would be alive. The year was 1982, and Ian left a promising career as a grave-digger to become a nurse at the Whittington hospital in Archway.

Ian went on to spend three years at the Whittington hospital. He was one of only two males amongst a student intake of 32. The group had eight weeks of initial training followed by alternating stints of four months on the wards followed by two weeks further training.

In this way Ian came to work in all the departments of the hospital, and his experiences were by turns funny, sad and fulfilling. They ranged from delivering babies in the labour ward to assisting with electro-convulsive therapy in the psychiatric unit.

Nursing broadened Ian's experience in many ways; the work was very varied. Occasionally inmates of the nearby Holloway and Pentonville prisons would be admitted, having made themselves ill to get a break from prison life. One swallowed a needle wrapped in Sellotape so that he would need an operation when the Sellotape dissolved. At other times local down-and-outs were brought in drunk, needing to be cleaned up and allowed time to sleep it off.

Ian spent eight weeks in the acute psychiatric unit (as a nurse, not as a patient) and came across some rather strange, and rather violent, characters. Though Ian did not experience violence himself, one of his colleagues was stabbed, and most of the long-term staff had been attacked at one time or another. I have already referred to the electro-convulsive therapy - I asked Ian "Did it work?". He answered "Many of the doctors, and the patients themselves, swore by it. It really did seem to help the manic-depressives."

Nursing was a hard life, of long hours and poor pay, trying to do one's best in the face of Health Service under-funding. Eventually Ian left it for those reasons. Some of his student colleagues left because they found it too emotionally draining, but for Ian this was not a problem. He always had this consoling thought: "Well, at least the patients are more healthy than my clients in my last job."