She’s just celebrated 50 years of NHS service and senior Walsall Healthcare nurse Lisa Hamilton insists she wouldn’t change a thing!
Zone Supervisor for the Saddlers Vaccination Hu, Lisa wells up with pride talking about caring for others.
Lisa retired in June 2020 after working at Walsall Manor Hospital for 36 years. But she returned just three months later to supervise the COVID-19 vaccination programme and has worked three days every week since last December.
Since the vaccine rollout started at Walsall on 8 December 2020, the 68-year-old grandmother of two has led an 18-strong team of vaccinators and registered nurses.
“You can’t make a nurse, and when it stops coming from there, then it’s time to leave,” said an emotional Lisa, pointing to her heart. “I still have that and if someone offered me this half century again, I would snatch your hand off.
“There’s so many people who have touched my life and I know I’ve touched theirs – staff, patients and families.
“The best part for me is that early shift; going in at quarter to seven, the hospital is just ‘waking up’ – it’s absolutely lovely. You have no idea what you’re walking into.”
Lisa clearly has a heart of gold. “In 50 years I believe I’ve never made one person cry,” she said. “You should never say anything unkind because no one knows what’s going on in anyone’s lives.
“Apparently I have a way of giving people a rollicking while giving them a hug and a love at the same time!”
That selflessness saw her set up a meeting group for vulnerable people during lockdown in Aldridge, where she lives, even maintaining the home of one person who was hospitalised.
“I just bumped into someone who looked so low, so I said I’d meet him the next morning and by the Friday there was six people,” she said.
From someone with such a caring nature, Lisa’s impoverished background in Swindon, Wiltshire sounds more uncompromising.
Forced to leave school at 15 and work in a factory, she pleaded with her headteacher to persuade her mother to allow her to instead enrol on a pre-nursing course.
“I had the cheapest clothes but you could have sent me in rags because I was where I needed to be,” said Lisa. “My dream came true.”
That dream could have been shattered as Lisa regularly broke the 10.30pm curfew at the nurses home.
“A taxi would come on a Saturday morning and took you to matron for a dressing down,” she recalled. “I was in that taxi every week because I was always late home!”
After qualifying in Bath, Lisa worked for 12 months in intensive care there before five years at Frenchay Hospital, North Bristol NHS Trust, in the paediatric burns and plastic unit, where she met John, a clinical photographer. They have been married for 44 years.
A promotion for John took them to Leeds and over the next six years she worked in paediatric and adult renal dialysis at Jimmy’s (St James’s University Hospital) and a 10-bedded cardiothoracic intensive care ward at the city’s former Killingbeck Hospital.
They both settled at the Manor following another promotion for John – who retired from Walsall in 2011 – while Lisa was appointed staff nurse on critical care.
Despite admitting she’s had her happiest times at the Manor, she was initially reluctant to come. “I got the train to Walsall for my interview and it was nothing but factories and I thought ‘not for me’!” she said.
She came to relish the move, however, following a career switch. She became a mentor, first in pre-registration for students then to post-registration at the Faculty Of Research and Clinical Education (FORCE), guiding new staff nurses through their first year’s training.
An even bigger challenge followed in 2016 when Lisa was sent to the Philippines to recruit international nurses for Walsall.
Lisa nurtured around 30 student nurses through their clinical training for their OSCE (clinical exams) at Northampton University, making lifelong friends.
“They’re like my family – I’m in touch with them all the time,” she said. “We’ve organised weddings, had parties at my house and I’ve attended their churches.”
Despite all her commitments, Lisa still finds time for daily visits to her horse Blackie in Aldridge and walks their four-year-old cockapoo Frankie.
Lisa’s passion for healthcare meant there was no hesitation when the call came to return to work in September 2020, initially in the staffing hub ensuring there was adequate staff to care for COVID-19 patients.
After overseeing the flu jab programme, she started the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination in December, moving to the Saddlers Centre when vaccinations started there in March.
“Coming back to work was the right thing to do to help get everyone safe,” said Lisa. “I’ll see the programme through to the end, which we think will be next March. That’s when I will finish.”
Lisa, who has a son, 34, and 31-year-old daughter, has kept a diary since December to pass on to her grandsons aged nine and three, so they can relive history in years to come.
But for now, she wants to enjoy the present with them. “For the boys to have memories of me, I need to be with them and that’s what I need to focus on,” she said.
After 50 years of devoting her life to others Lisa is finally thinking of herself too.