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Julie Burgess leaves after decades of service

Julie Burgess, who started at Waikato Hospital in 1982 and recently put on her nurse’s uniform for the last time, was a constant through decades of change.

“I started here 33 years ago, back then I worked in Urology.”

For nearly two years Burgess tended to patients that came through the department at all hours of the day until she felt the desire to move into Oncology.

“I worked mostly with chemotherapy outpatients; back then I would draw up all the medicines for several departments, even ward 21 which was for haematology patients. That would never happen today, Pharmacy now do all that,” she said.

Reminiscing on the past Burgess spoke about how chemotherapy had changed since the late 1980s.

“When I was in ward 8 with the bladder cancer patients we used to insert the chemo directly into their bladder and then we would have to turn them on their side, then belly, then back, then side to make sure it got all around.”

But her greatest legacy would come to fruition in 1991 when here and another colleague worked together to develop Waikato Hospital’s palliative care department.

We really had to set-up palliative care as a separate discipline, she said.

Burgess was included in designing the ward’s lay-out including the private single rooms that gave families the opportunity to privately say goodbye to their loved ones.

Dealing with the death of people on a daily basis never became taxing for Burgess who had witnessed the evolution of cancer and cancer treatments.

“Before palliative care we used to get some really sick patients, a lot of them died in those days and we just tried to take care of them the best we could.”

She said designing the palliative care department was really about knowing you couldn’t change someone’s diagnosis but you could still provide them quality of life.

I really enjoy the intensity of palliative care…but also there is a real nursing of not just patients but families as well.”

Burgess said there was satisfaction in knowing that you are making a difference to people’s life when they are “incredibly vulnerable”. It was a multi-disciplinary speciality which meant you had to be aware of all the services available to people both clinically and holistically.

“After a family lost someone we would make sure they were connected with all the people in the community that could support them through their loss.”

Now however a time has come for Burgess to take time for herself and keeping active with her tennis, squash and running will feature highly, however all this spare time has affronted her.

“I have worked for 51 years though – it is a real adjustment.”

Long-time colleague and friend Gabriel Reynolds said Julie had been instrumental in the department.

“The many tributes that have come in since Julie announced her retirement  pay tribute to the excellent care Julie provided to palliative patients over those years, and to the support of staff during that time.”

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