“My parent’s experience made me realise how badly people want to have a baby.” Tom Horton was born the same year as Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby, and is proud to be working as an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) at Bourn Hall Cambridge, the clinic established by the IVF pioneers.
Impact of infertility
Tom, who is adopted, remembers his parents going through IVF treatment, when he was a young child.
He recalls: “I was born 42 years ago, the same year as the world’s first IVF baby Louise Brown. IVF was a breakthrough for couples struggling to conceive.
“I remember sitting in the car as we drove from Devon to the clinic in Bristol for mum to have her appointments, so I had been aware of what IVF is from a young age. IVF was then a very new treatment and sadly they were unsuccessful.
“Because of the experience my parents had, it gave me a perspective of how badly people want to have a baby and I remember how upset my mum was when IVF didn’t work for her. Obviously success rates and treatments have moved on a lot since the early days. If she had been having her treatment now she may well have had a very different outcome.”
Operating Department Practitioner role is vital
Tom didn’t immediately go into healthcare. Initially, he went to drama school and considered a career in film and TV. “I wasn’t sure if it was right for me though. I went home to Cambridge for a re-think, and that’s where I got chatting to someone who was a psychiatric nurse – that is how it all started for me really,” he says.
Tom’s first job was as a healthcare assistant working with psychiatric patients and the elderly, and then he saw an advert for a Theatre Support worker at Papworth Hospital: “that was where I got my first introduction to theatre work.”
An Operating Department Practitioner is a vital part of the team at every stage of a patient’s surgical procedure – providing patient care during their sedation/anaesthesia, the surgical procedure itself and the recovery. Tom completed his ODP qualification by studying part-time at Anglia Ruskin University and working first at Basildon then at Hinchingbrooke Hospital.
After qualifying in 2012, Tom accepted his first ODP position at Spire’s Cambridge Lea Hospital where he stayed for eight years and then moved on to other local hospitals. Then lockdown struck.
“I had actually been furloughed from my job when I saw an ODP position come up at Bourn Hall. I was really interested because fertility treatment was something I was familiar with from personal experience but not an area I had worked in before,” he says.
Applying for the position at Bourn Hall in lockdown meant that Tom had to have his job interview via Zoom with Bourn Hall’s Nursing Development Director Annie Cant and Regional Lead Nurse Laura Carter-Penman.
Enjoy working with patients who are awake!
“I got the job and started at Bourn Hall on 6 July with a skeleton staff,” says Tom. “Now that people have come back I am meeting loads of new faces every day. It was actually really good for me to start when it was quieter because I was able to get to grips with the job without it being too busy and getting too flustered.
“To be honest I think I have learned more in three months at Bourn Hall than I did in any previous jobs. I am now working independently without the need for supervision and I qualified in cannulation and phlebotomy.
“Previously a lot of my role was about time management and making sure the surgery lists ran smoothly whereas here there is far more patient contact and I have learned new skills, which is brilliant. I am in theatre for egg collections, embryo transfers and surgical sperm retrievals and it is really nice to deal with patients who are actually awake!
“The patient contact is the part of the job that I enjoy the most. When I worked in psychiatric care I used to love making a breakthrough with a patient. Now I love seeing patients’ reactions and their excitement when they are coming back to Bourn Hall to have their embryos put in.
Helping to create families
“I am helping to create someone’s family and that is a really lovely thing especially when you see it on their faces. People email in and thank us personally and it is so nice.”
Tom would recommend becoming an Operating Department Practitioner to anyone interested in doing a job that ‘makes a difference’. “For me the attractions are the atmosphere of the theatre environment and being part of someone’s medical procedure whether that be a hip replacement, heart surgery, egg retrieval or embryo transfer.
“The level of training I have received at Bourn Hall has been fantastic, my personal development folder is fuller than it has ever been and that is awesome.”