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Retiring after nearly 60 years with the NHS in Llanelli

16 April 2024

When Medical Secretary Christine Bowen from Llanelli retired at the end of March, she was the same age as the National Health Service where she worked for almost 60 years.

The NHS, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, was established in 1948. Christine started working for the NHS at the old Llanelli Hospital in Marble Hall Road in 1965 at the age of 17, straight after leaving college.

She retired an incredible 58 years later as a medical secretary in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department at Hywel Dda University Health Board’s Prince Philip Hospital.

“I started worked as a typist and administrative clerk in the x-ray department, said Christine. “It was quite a big hospital for its time and, from what I understand, Llanelli people gave a penny out of their wages for the hospital to be built,”

Christine said that she had three job options – hairdresser, working in the brewery or the hospital.

“I tried for three jobs but working in the brewery? I didn’t want to smell of hops all day. Hairdresser? On your feet all day. I absolutely loved typing – and so that was the best option for me.”

And, apart from some short career breaks to have her three children Jayne, Sarah and Matthew, Christine has worked for the NHS in Llanelli ever since, but has moved around within the organisation.

So why did she stay so long? “I just love the job,” said Christine. “I have been very lucky with the consultants I have worked with. They have been very appreciative and very supportive. I just like helping people.”

For the last 16 years Christine has worked as a medical secretary for Mr. Islam Abdelrahman, Consultant Gynaecologist at Hywel Dda.

Christine has seen some major changes over the years including the move from the old Llanelli General Hospital to the brand-new Prince Philip Hospital which opened in the early 1990s. Christine has always been drawn to women’s health and was offered the post of medical secretary for the new gynaecologist at the hospital.

“I remember the six of us coming over here in hard hats because the hospital wasn’t finished! It was a huge change – we were working in the old laundry and to come over here – it was so big compared to the old hospital.”

“I have had to adapt a lot over the years. I have got a notebook here from when I started out, putting the names of drugs down and names I wasn’t familiar with, because in our day, you didn’t have a medical secretary course in college. You got your experience on the job and I’m still writing in the book because I’m still learning.”

When Christine started work in 1965, there were no computers or internet – everything was done on paper and typewriter and filed in cabinets.

“I started on a Remington 60 typewriter with round keys. Then came the electric typewriter, which I was starry-eyed at and then they said these computers are coming in. And then they’d change the programmes and I thought I was a dinosaur but then two months later you think – ‘what was I worrying about’!”

Although systems and ways of doing things have changed over the years, Christine said that many aspects of her job remain the same – organising clinics, sending out appointment letters, typing letters to GPs, collating results and managing Mr Abdelrahman’s busy diary.

And this variety within her role is another thing which has kept Christine in her job for so long. “I’m slower now than I used to be because you do slow down, but I like to be kept busy,” said Christine.

But Christine feels she is now ready to retire and put her feet up. “I think it’s a job for the younger generation now,” said Christine.

When she finally retires at the end of March, Christine will spend her time doing the things she enjoys. “I love reading – I do crosswords, I do jigsaws. I like to keep my brain active,” she said.

Christine’s friends and colleagues at Prince Philip Hospital and beyond will be sure to miss her and she will miss them too.

“I’ve got lots of fond memories – silly little things really. But what it was, as long as you did your work, you could have a little chat with someone; you’d take the mail over to the post room and you’d have a little chat. Everybody knew each other, everybody got on with each other.

“I have been very lucky working in the Gynaecology Department with the two consultants that I have worked with over the last 34 years, in Prince Philip Hospital, being very appreciative.  

“Also my memories will be of a smaller group of work colleagues in Prince Philip Hospital, due to it being a bigger hospital, especially the different team members in the library, where I am based, and my fellow secretarial and clinical nurses that I have worked with.”

Mr Abdelrahman said that Christine would be greatly missed. He said: “Chris has been an invaluable member of our team for the past 16 years, and her retirement leaves a void that will be deeply felt.

“Her dedication, patience, and exceptional communication skills have been instrumental in our work, particularly in our efforts with cancer patients. Chris consistently went above and beyond her role, and her commitment to excellence has greatly contributed to our ability to achieve positive outcomes.

“While we will miss Chris dearly, we are also immensely grateful for the years of support and professionalism she has provided. Her impact on our team and the lives of those she served will be remembered fondly.”