People's History of the NHS


Portrait of Norma Johnson

I’m Clinical Operations Manager for the Continuing Healthcare team.

I had been working as a Continuing HealthCare assessor for last eighteen years and I was recently promoted to the position of Clinical Operations Manager, which was one of the proudest days in my life.

I can remember when I started my nursing career, I was eighteen years old. My mom and my brother drove me up to Stoke on Trent, where I had been accepted, to commence my Enrolled Nurse training.
Once, we had said our goodbyes and the minute the door closed behind them, I remember thinking, “What now, what do I do!?” I was so young, so naive… I hadn’t been away from home so it was a totally new experience for me back then, I was very much home sick in those early days and weeks and would call home every night it took me some time to settle and make friends.
I can remember going into class thinking “I don’t know what I’m doing here”!

However, it was the best thing I’ve ever done; it’s given me so many opportunities in life. To think back to where I started compared to where I am now..!

I grew up in Tividale (in Sandwell) both my parents came over from Jamaica in the fifties. My father is from Clarendon (Jamaica) and My Mother was from St Andrews (Jamaica).

Although my mother passed away a few years ago now, she worked as a domestic cleaner at Summerfield Hospital, at Dudley Road (City Hospital, Birmingham) as everyone would know it as now. My father worked as a paint sprayer, this was his job when he came to England and he remained at the same company till he retired.

Dad still with us, as a matter of fact he celebrated his 100th Birthday in May!

When I became interested in a career nursing, there was no nurses in our family. When I left school I attended college for two years on a pre-nursing course. My very first hospital experience as part of the pre-nursing course, you had the opportunity to go on a week’s work experience on a hospital ward.

This was the very first time I experienced working at Sandwell Hospital they used to call us ‘the canaries’ because our uniforms were a very distinctive bright yellow, I do remember that, I can remember also thinking that bright yellow is so not my colour!

I did not know back then how Sandwell Hospital would play such a definitive role in my future and career.

On completing my college course, I applied to as many schools of nursing in order to gain a place to train as an Enrolled Nurse; I was successful in obtaining a place in Stoke on Trent. I was a pupil nurse for two years and on completing my exams I qualified as an Enrolled nurse in 1986. My first job as a qualified Enrolled Nurse was on a Dermatology ward, I remember I delayed going into my Enrolled Nurse uniform! My manager however, after a week said “Haven’t you just qualified? I want to see you in uniform nurse!”

As student nurse you’re kind of invisible, but once you step out of that blue checked dress and into your qualified uniform, it becomes ever so real you are Enrolled Nurse Norma Johnson, all those years of training starts to kick in.

I think like many nurses back then when you qualified, you would proudly show off wearing the your silver buckle, I do think back then we were so smart in our qualified uniforms, white caps and black capes…

In September 1986 left Stoke on Trent and I came to Sandwell (Hospital) where I worked on Priory four, which back then was the Elderly Care ward which was managed by Sister Kerrigan. Everyone used to say she’s quite stern, strict and she didn’t ‘suffer fools gladly’ - but she seemed to take a liking to me so I must have done something right!

I made a lot of good friend on there, that’s what stuck with me. I can remember when you used to go onto the ward, there’d be loads of nurses , at times you couldn’t even get through the office door to listen to what was going on with the handover and stuff, there was so many staff around back then! I remember on Priory four it was a very busy and hard work ward but you learnt a lot, but you had enjoyable times as well …

Whilst at Sandwell I did my conversion course to complete my Registered General Nursing training. I failed my exams the first time, which was a bit of a shocker, a bit of a depressing day as I recall, however, the next day I picked myself back up, did a lot of revising and passed my exams the second time around.

As a registered nurse I spent eleven years working on Lyndon four (Sandwell), which specialized back then was Medical/Diabetes ward, I developed my knowledge and skills as a registered nurse, yet another ward which was always very busy, but you had staff that were hard working and dedicated, the shifts were long as you never ever seemed to get off work on time, you did what you had to do in order to care for your patients.

You had your good days and you had your bad days; but I always had the feeling at the end of the shift the satisfaction my patients had been well cared for.

In 2001 I left Sandwell Hospital and joined the community and took up the position as a staff nurse in the Discharge Planning team, for Oldbury and Smethwick.

During my time working out in the community, I have seen many changes, I have gained so much knowledge, experiences and life skills and as result I find myself in my current role today.

As a nurse you never stop learning. As a result of my many years in nursing, I have formed lifelong friendships.

As a professional group of people we are remarkable, exceptional, dedicated. We are always supportive of each other through good and bad times, but we do this job because we love it.

All photographs copyright of Inès Elsa Dalal © 2019 Commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, 2018. No photographs or text may be referenced or published elsewhere, without prior permission

One thought on “Portrait of Norma Johnson

  1. Norma

    Hoping that you are doing well, happy and healthy

    I have looked for you for a long time, so nice to see you doing well! Always knew you would!

    Think of you on and off, I remember our days at Stoke on Trent too! So long ago now

    Do you ever remember our holiday together in Majorca? We went a couple of times…..

    Anyway just wanted to say it’s wonderful to see you and wonderful what you have achieved,

    Look after yourself

    Sarah xxx

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