Maureen Cunnington has been looking into the future of people’s lives for nearly 50 years but when she retired from Newmarket hospital it wasn’t a crystal ball she left behind but an ultrasound machine.
The qualified radiographer and sonographer had put in 46 years’ service with the NHS which began at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, before she moved to the then Newmarket General Hospital in 1974.
But her career came about not by design as she originally planned to go into pathology. A Newmarket Secondary Modern pupil, Maureen had achieved academic success and was advised to apply to join the Bury hospital pathology lab as a technician by her teachers. “It’s quite a story,” said Maureen, “I knocked on the door of the lab, and a gentleman came out. I explained why I was there, and he asked me where I was at school. When I told him, he replied: ‘We only take people from grammar schools’.”
Although she had the right qualifications, he would not budge. “Try x-ray,” he said. Crestfallen, the teenager did as he suggested and tried her luck there. She had no appointment, but was welcomed by the team, who showed her round, leaving her impressed by all the machines. “It was like something from space,” she remembered.
She was one of the first to begin the two-year training scheme at West Suffolk, spending three days a week ‘on the job’ and two at the Ipswich School of Radiography at the Anglesea Road hospital.
Once qualified she stayed in Bury for a year before moving to Newmarket in 1974, then a general hospital with 285 beds, a casualty department, operating theatres, maternity unit and nursing school.
And she spent the rest of her career there, working as a radiographer until the 1980s when she undertook further training at the Central Middlesex Hospital to become a sonographer, a clinician using diagnostic imaging techniques based on the application of ultrasound.
“Ultrasound has developed since I started,” said Maureen. “The images are much better – it’s like a new TV, you get new features all the time.”
Maureen, who lives in Fordham, said her work had been ‘one part along the journey in a person’s life’.
“That’s the most rewarding part of the job. You can tell someone their longed-for baby is healthy or find out what is wrong with someone and set them on the right path for treatment. Of course, there are good and bad days but you feel you have made a difference in someone’s life.”
At her retirement reception, Newmarket superintendent radiographer Craig Wicksted told Maureen: “Normally, when an employee leaves a place of employment, he or she is asked to hand in their ID badge, uniform and parking permit. In your case, I would like you to leave all of your knowledge, experience, and the huge respect you have gained for yourself and, in consequence, for the department.”