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Arlene Brady: A lifetime in the emergency department

For 57 years, she was the face of the emergency department. Now retired, emergency nurse practitioner Arlene Brady may have hung up her stethoscope but she has no plans to stop living her life to the full.

ArleneBrady2018Starting out as a new nurse at Royal South Hants in 1966 and eventually moving to the emergency department at Southampton General Hospital, Arlene has helped generations of families in the Southampton area.

“I trained in Poole in 1963, started working in ED in 1966 and, apart from maternity leave, I have stayed in ED until this year. I only left due to ill health otherwise I would still be there now.”

Describing her first few years in the NHS, Arlene said: “When I started, the emergency department was called casualty. It was a tiny building. We only had a few doctors and it wasn’t very busy.” 

In 1974, Arlene moved across town to the new emergency department built as part of Southampton General Hospital. She added:  “I saw the age of the computer arrive and everything changed.”

“I have spent the best years of my life in ED looking after patients. I’ve seen the most awful accidents and miraculous recoveries of seriously ill patients.”


We asked Arlene a few questions about her career and what it’s like to work in one of the busiest departments in a hospital.


What made you become a nurse?
As a young girl growing up l used to have lots of dolls. I liked playing with them and l used to pretend they had broken legs and l would bandage them up. I lived in my nurse’s outfit.

What have you most enjoyed about working in the emergency department?
The most enjoyment l have had in the ED was working with amazing nurses and doctors. We were a real team and relied on each other. When I first arrived to do my training, I was the only black nurse – the patients all wanted me to tell them what beautiful island I had come from!

What was the most difficult thing about working in the emergency department?
The most difficult thing for me was night duty. l didn’t sleep well in the days, but l loved ED so much that l didn’t find it difficult. l loved my job, it was my life and l was dedicated to it. I’ve been married and divorced twice and both my husband’s said l was married to the job. Unfortunately l can’t deny it.

You must have seen a lot of different emergencies after working in the department for so long – what would you say has changed over the years?
In the old days, in the 60s and 70s, patients with minor injuries did not attend ED. Now you see patients coming in with minor cuts and bruises. We need to take more responsibility.

What advice would you give to the public? To those who are inspiring to be a nurse?
To the public l would try and educate them to deal with some problems themselves. To inspiring nurses l would say you have to be dedicated. It’s hard work, but there are so many rewards when patients are grateful for their treatment.

What will you do next?
I have so much knowledge to impart. l want to travel and l have a bucket list but COVID has put a stop to it for now. l would like to write a book eventually and call it “The life and times of an ED nurse”.


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