A proud Walsall community nurse has been recognised by royalty after becoming a Queen’s Nurse – the highest recognition in her field.
Rachel Willis, Lead Nurse, Professional Development (Community Division), is responsible for the delivery, training, support and professional development for 900 community nurses in Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust
Some of her biggest achievements are introducing a training programme enabling junior community nurses to give insulin to patients and bringing in bite-sized, annual refresher training courses that adapt around the staff, rather than the other way round.
The 50-year-old mother of two, who has been a nurse for 32 years, received a gold badge and certificate at a ceremony, but like all the other Queen’s Nurses, must be assessed annually on her work to retain her regal title.
She said: “It’s a real honour and I feel very special. Other than my wedding day and having my children, it’s the best day of my life because having this acknowledgement of hard work means so much.
“I came into the community in the year 2000 and for me I found my absolute passion. I’ve encouraged so many other people to apply for this but I also decided to do it myself.
“They say it’s not recognition for what you’ve done but for what you’ve committed to do in the future, because you’re promoting standards and community care.
“I have a vision for the community division; we look at how we can develop staff and help them reach their potential and ensure a high standard of care across the board.”
Rachel, who is based at Beechdale Health Centre, also believes the honour will act as a platform for her to further improve the service.
“It’s also about the doors it opens because you have to stay connected to all the other Queen’s Nurses, so it’s an opportunity to share good practice and implement change,” added Rachel. “I can also network with people there and work on projects – I’ve already made connections with people from the award ceremony.”
After qualifying as a Registered General Nurse at Dudley Road Hospital – now City Hospital, part of Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust – Rachel became a Sister in Medicine and Pain Management there until 2000.
She then became Community Staff Nurse, serving in Soho, Handsworth, before graduating with a specialist practice degree in District Nursing from which she became a District Nursing Sister and Team Leader in Tower Hill, Great Barr.
In 2016 Rachel decided to become a Community Practice Teacher, before moving to the Midlands Partnerships Foundation Trust as a Practice Teacher, serving the Cannock and Rugeley area for three years.
Then in 2021 she became Community Professional Development Co-ordinator, prior to her current post, which she has been in for a year.
Rachel is also a Professional Nurse Advocate (PNA), a programme which delivers training and restorative supervision for colleagues and has enhanced her understanding of problems nurses encounter, helping her nip issues in the bud.
“What’s been lovely as a PNA is if there are common themes or problems we can look at them and put in training to address those, so it works really well,” she added.
It’s all a far cry from when she re-sat her GCSE to get her science qualification at the age of 17 after pleading for work as a cleaner as a schoolgirl in Prestatyn, North Wales, where she grew up.
“I literally knocked on doors for work, and I recall being wringing wet from the rain and a lady at the last residential home I knocked at took pity on me and gave me a week’s work,” said Rachel. “From there I started work in residential homes as a carer at 16.”
With two teenagers and such a responsible job, Rachel’s days are pretty full but she relaxes by being a practising Christian, attending The Church at Junction 10 in Walsall. “My faith plays a big part in what I do,” added Rachel.