Before Lori Hammon discovered nursing school, she saw herself less as a student than a sort of audience member.
"I've never been a big academic person," she says. "I'd rather be entertained."
Hammon says that all changed when, at a friend's urging, she decided to study nursing.
"I was totally engaged," Hammon says. "I loved every bit of it. I never imagined it would be so fascinating to grow bugs on an agar plate. I went from being a D student to straight As."
As a brand-new registered nurse, Hammon landed her first job at Erlanger Medical Center in 1983. She stayed there until 1991, when she moved to what is now CHI Memorial. Hammon marks 30 years there this year, and serves in two leadership roles.
One role is director of the hospital's Medical Staff team, which supports the more than 600 active physicians at CHI Memorial. Hammon also serves as director of the hospital's Quality team.
In that capacity, she faced the challenge of getting the CHI Memorial staff vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Hammon says the project began in November 2020.
"When we first started talking vaccine, we were so excited," she says. "We got an immediate, palpable sense of hope."
She recalls that the prep work was daunting, given that the hospital employs more than 1,000 people.
"I drove everybody crazy, but we could see the first day that it was really working," she says. "We felt we were part of history. We're the beta group. The excitement, the accomplishment – maybe in 20 years, there's no COVID."
In nominating Hammon for Champions of Health Care recognition, colleague Karen Frank writes that Hammon "works diligently, and non-stop, to improve health-care quality, error prevention, harm reduction and safety improvement."
Frank adds that Hammon developed a program that has produced more than 150 safety coaches at the hospital.
* Role: Director of the Quality and Medical Staff Office teams, CHI Memorial Hospital
* Career: A registered nurse, Hammon worked at Erlanger Medical Center 1983-91, then moved to CHI Memorial.
* Personal: Husband Van, sons Jacob and Clayton. Hammon enjoys camping, fishing, amateur paleontology.
"Providing the best care possible, in every encounter, is Lori's goal," Frank writes. "She tackles hard projects and does not shy from difficult work."
Hammon has recently faced an entirely new kind of challenge, however. She was diagnosed in February with endometrial cancer, and surgery forced her to take several weeks off.
But by the time she was ready to come back, she says, the pandemic had forced employers everywhere to shift to a work-at-home model.
"It was a kind of serendipity," Hammon says. "A lot of what we do can be done remotely, so I was able to work from my laptop. I was full-time, but able to stay home. I called it 'respite working.'"
And Hammon says that as her career nears the 40-year mark, cancer has taught her something new about nursing.
"I thought I'd done a really good job understanding people and their pain," she says, "but I realized I'd only touched the surface before.
"You can't really understand that kind of pain," she says, "unless you've lived it."
CHAMPIONS OF HEALTH CARE 2021