Nola Ishmael left Barbados In 1963 to start her nursing career in the National Health Service (NHS) at a hospital in Bishops Stortford. She later moved to the Whittington Hospital in London to gain her State Registration Qualification. Within 18 months of qualifying as a nurse she was promoted to Unit Sister in the Neurosurgical Unit of the Maudsley Hospital in London. Later she went on to qualify as a Health visitor. In 1981, she became a Community Manager and in 1987 became Assistant Director of Nursing in Greenwich. Eighteen months later she was appointed Director of Nursing, thereby becoming the first black Nursing Director in the NHS in London.
Nola was invited in 1994 to the Department of Health for six months which evolved into a ten year tenure, where she worked closely with Ministers and Chief Nursing Officers in different roles, including Professional Private Secretary to the Chief Nursing Officer. She later added Nursing Policy responsibilities in Public Health areas and Black and Minority Ethnic issues to her portfolio.
Nola initiated programmes of mentoring, coaching and personal development, and collaborated on the establishment of the Mary Seacole Leadership Awards. She co-produced the Department’s publication Many Rivers to Cross which chronicled the contribution of Caribbean staff to the NHS. She worked closely with organisations such as Barbados Overseas Nursing Association (BONA) and the Royal College of Nursing, as well as sitting on the boards of a number of charitable organisations. She is Patron of the Sickle Cell Society and past Vice Chair of Greenwich Community College. Nola is active as a mentor and motivational speaker. She travelled across the UK and overseas including Australia, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, including Barbados, representing the Department of Health. Nola is a member of the High Commission Health and Welfare Group.
Nola’s service was recognised in the N HS with her receiving the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2000, and an Honorary Doctorate degree for services to Nursing from Birmingham City University. She also received a Breakthrough Equality Award from the Wainwright Trust and NursingTimes Magazine’s recognition as one of top 50 Influential Nurses in the last 100years.
Nola was among 15 Health Leaders who had a Portrait displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2006.