Five decades at Bourn Hall – friendship and family

Bourn Hall is now in its fifth decade and one of our nurses, Julie Robinson, who started working at Bourn Hall Cambridge in 1989, wanted to share her story of fertility nursing at Bourn Hall across five decades.

The 1980’s groundbreaking work at the world’s first IVF clinic

When I first started working at Bourn Hall in 1989, I felt excited and honoured to be part of such a prestigious team. Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge was opened in 1980 by IVF pioneers Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy.

By the time I began work there, as a young 26-year-old Staff Nurse, IVF was becoming more established, but was often still considered controversial by some. I loved every minute of it, as it was innovative, exciting and there was such a sense of it being very special, ground-breaking work. Patients were entirely at the heart of everything we did. Coming from a background in women’s health and gynaecology since qualifying as an RGN, I was enthralled with the work which focused on fertility and creating life.

Julie with one of her sons in 2003
Julie with one of her sons in 2003

Shared bond

In the 1980s, all our female patients were inpatients, requiring them to stay overnight for a few days; this meant we got to know them really well and friendships developed. There was such a sense of family and community and I still remember some patients from those early days and wonder how they are now.

Many of those patients were successful in their treatments and their children will now be in their 30s. At that time, I remember the success rate was about 20%, which felt hugely exciting and gave couples real hope of having their own child. Nowadays our success rate is over 50% so we have come a long way in this time.

Tea in china cups 

One of my fondest memories of the 1980s and early 1990s is the way we looked after our patients on the day of their embryo transfer. This day was the absolute highpoint of their fertility journey. As a ward nurse, I would take a patient down to theatre, with all of us feeling such a sense of excitement and anticipation. When a patient returned from theatre, wheeled back on the hospital bed, I would tip the bed so that it was at an angle with her legs elevated. We would then bring her a tray with pots of tea and china cups and then she would lie in that position for two hours! On the ward, there would often be up to five patients in the same room, all chatting excitedly, sharing their hopes and dreams together. It was a special time indeed and I felt honoured and privileged to be part of their story.

Welcomed back to the family

During the 1990s I took a few years off to have my two sons, but when my youngest started school, I returned to the Bourn Hall family. They welcomed me back and I could work flexible hours as a Bank Nurse. By this time, patients did not stay overnight any more, as all treatments were done now as outpatients.

Many advances in treatment

As I continued working as a Fertility Nurse Specialist over the years, and into the 2000s, there were many changes and developments, including ICSI, treatment for spinally injured men, treatment for single women and same-sex couples, transgender patients, and new surgical advancements for sperm retrieval. There have been many developments and improvements in the embryology techniques, such as blastocyst culture and freezing embryos.

Patients are at the heart of everything

Although there have been numerous advances in the field of reproductive medicine, for me, looking after our patients has been the heart and soul of everything I do. Treating every patient as an individual has always been, and still remains, the focus of my nursing. My passion for supporting patients throughout their fertility journey has been my life’s vocation, and I am so privileged to have nursed at Bourn Hall over these five decades.

Julie has kindly shared some personal photographs in her Bourn Hall uniform over the years.

Julie in 1991
Julie in 2003
Julie in 2016
Julie in 2019

Scroll through to see more

More information

Read about the founding of Bourn Hall.

Read more stories about the history of Bourn Hall.

Take a look through our celebration of 40 years of IVF, including:

And take a look through the fertility treatments that Bourn Hall offers today.

Related articles