Colchester is home to a military barracks and many patients coming through the doors of our Colchester clinic have links with the forces. In the second of our series celebrating the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife we speak to advanced fertility nurse specialist Jackie Richardson who, coincidentally, began her nursing career in the Army Nursing Corp.
As part of her job as a nurse in the armed forces Jackie had supported military patients who needed to come back to the UK for fertility treatment, so she was intrigued by an opportunity to work in this field.
“Ten years ago I got a call inviting me to interview for a nursing position with Bourn Hall in Colchester. It was something completely different for me and I thought ‘that sounds interesting’,” says Jackie.
Before that, Jackie’s 25 year nursing career had been spent in the army, first in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corp and then as a civilian nurse within the military.
“The military was in my blood really: my Dad and some of my brothers had been in the army. One day I decided that I was bored with my mundane job in a little town in Scotland and signed up,” she says. “I trained and qualified as a nurse and got to see the world, living in Hong Kong, Germany and the Falkland Islands amongst others.”
Ten years after getting the job at Bourn Hall, Jackie still loves it: “I like being involved from the very beginning when people suffering with infertility come in to one of our drop-in sessions to find out more about what we do, right through to treatment and outcome.
“The journeys our patients take are all very different. I share the patients’ emotional rollercoaster and despite all my experience I can still get quite emotional myself; I do cry sometimes. This is peoples’ lives – very often they are pinning all their hopes and dreams on IVF; it would be impossible to distance myself from the job.
“And it is so lovely when patients bring their babies in when the treatment has been successful.”
One particular element of her job that Jackie finds rewarding is as one of the two coordinators of Bourn Hall’s egg donation programme. She is often the first point of contact for someone who has expressed an interest in egg sharing or donation.
She says: “Women under 35 who are undergoing IVF treatment may be able to egg share; this reduces the cost of their treatment and also helps another patient.
“There are also altruistic donors. Some of these are patients that have had successful treatment and want to ‘give something back’ by donating some of their eggs, which is very special,” she says.
“We speak to the women and explain the pathway and answer any questions they may have. We often get a follow-up phone call from the donor asking how the recipient got on. We are able to tell them if the treatment was successful, but not much more due to patient confidentiality.”
Jackie describes herself as a ‘people person’ and her previous links to the military have proved useful in a garrison town. “I always find that when patients walk in who are in the military or are ex-military we hit it off straight away because we have the same background in common,” she says.
One of the most satisfying aspects of her role is explaining to patients what their treatment will involve.
“A lot of people don’t actually realise what IVF involves when they first come through the door and I try to make it as easy to understand as possible and encourage lots of questions. We always make it clear that we are here for the patients and that they can ask us anything. We may have been through the process many times before with other patients but this is their first time and so no question they ask will ever be seen as too ‘silly’.”
Bourn Hall Colchester has recently introduced Saturday drop-in sessions for people who would like advice on boosting their fertility or finding out more about fertility treatment, and Jackie says they have proved very popular.
“The sessions are very informal and people can come in for a chat with no pressure. Sometimes people coming in have already had some hospital tests and we can advise them on what they might be able to do next.
“I love what I do. My entire focus is on our patients and I will do everything I can to help and support them.”