NHS 70 stories - Stopgap turns into 40 year NHS career

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

When Portia Chorlton started working in neurophysiology she didn’t intend it as a career, but 40 years later she is still here and not ready to retire completely just yet.

Portia was brought up around the complex world of neurophysiology. Her father, Dr Arthur Winter (back row, fourth from left), began his career at the Burden Neurological Institute under the guidance of Professor William Grey Walter (front row, fourth from right) in 1948.  Grey was was a pioneer in the field of neurophysiology and robotics. In order to demonstrate his belief in how the brain worked, Grey constructed two robots, Elmer and Elsie, between 1948 and 1949. The robots were the first of their kind and demonstrated the principle of artificial intelligence as it is now known.

Portia's Father Dr Arthur Winter and Professor William Grey Walter

Portia recalls: “My parents knew him well and I remember as a young child being fascinated with the robotic ‘tortoises’ and being allowed to play with them (carefully!).

“My father always said that Grey was a huge influence on his life, the other being Vicar Rev Mervyn Stockwood (who later became Bishop of Southwark) who knew Grey, and encouraged him to apply for the position at the Burden Institute.”

Portia recalls helping out in the EEG department when she was growing up.

“At weekends and during school holidays I used to go to work with my dad and would act as a guinea pig when they tested new equipment,” Portia added. “I would also get extra pocket money if I stuck up the paper recordings from the EEG machines”.

“When I finished school I wanted to go into social work but you could only start training when you were 20. My father told me a student EEG technician position had come up at the Burden and saw it as an opportunity to get some money until starting my social work training.

“I started on 4 August 1975 and I’m still here now!”

Originally starting out as an EEG technician, the field has advanced so much that Portia’s title is now clinical neurophysiologist to reflect the varied work they now carry out. From recording EEGs with pens writing on yards of paper, the digital age has meant the role has developed and the department now carries out such procedures as nerve conduction tests, evoked potentials, and intra-operative monitoring during spinal and neurosurgical procedures.Portia outside the Grey Walter Department at Frenchay

“I feel incredibly privileged to have worked alongside so many brilliant people, starting with my father who was my boss for the first 14 years (he left the Burden in 1989 to head the department at St Woolos Hospital in Newport, before retiring in 1994), and continuing alongside my colleagues today.” 

“Although I’m partly retired and working 3 days a week, I have no plans to handover my uniform and badge just yet!”

To read more about Grey Walter’s work visit his NHS 70 story.