Sharon Clayton’s retirement didn’t last long.

Two months after ending her 45-year nursing career at Novant Health, Clayton returned to help with the COVID-19 surge that is straining health care systems nationwide. She is administering COVID-19 vaccinations at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

“I thought this was a way that I could hopefully help do away with COVID-19,” Clayton said. “It's been rewarding to see a lot of familiar faces, people that I worked with before. I have enjoyed the experience.”

Sharon Clayton mug
Sharon Clayton

Clayton’s return to health care frees up Novant Health clinical staff who were taking on the additional role of dispensing the COVID-19 vaccinations, which began in mid-December. They return to their normal duties, and recent retirees like Clayton step in with experience, enthusiasm and a willingness to help.

As COVID-19 cases began to rise in early winter, Novant Health established “Operation All In,” where team members could volunteer for various roles to help support staff dealing with patients. The plan also included reaching out to recent health care retirees.

Clayton, who had retired in October, received a call from the human resources department in December. Soon afterward, Denise Mihal, Novant Health’s executive vice president and chief nursing and clinical operations officer, sent a letter explaining the program details.

Count me in, Clayton said.

“The whole idea interested me,” she said. “It wasn’t a hard decision. I wanted to contribute. Once the vaccines got approved, I wanted to do anything I could to help.”

After a couple of days ironing out administrative details, she was back doing what she’s done for a long time. While she awaited clearance from the state to give the vaccinations, she wasn’t idle. Clayton helped pharmacists prepare the vials that contained the vaccine by drawing the correct amount into a syringe.

Coincidentally, on Clayton’s first day administering vaccinations, one of her first patients wore a familiar face. It was Stephanie Shine, a Novant Health cardiology supervisor, who previously was Clayton’s boss. Clayton went over to say hello, and Shine asked if Clayton could give her the vaccine.

“I said sure, and that was kind of neat,” Clayton said. “We had a good working relationship, and I felt honored that she asked me to do that.”

Clayton’s retirement included the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but she said she spent much of her time caring for her 93-year-old mother. She hadn’t really settled into a retirement routine, so it wasn’t a massive readjustment to return to a place and role she’d spent decades doing.

Clayton said she doesn’t have a timetable of how long she’ll be back, but realizes it will be several months at a minimum, as the vaccine is distributed throughout the community. She said she’d be willing to take on other roles down the line, depending on what opportunities and needs might arise. If nursing taught her anything, it’s that you’ve got to be flexible and ready for anything.

“I'm hoping that what I'm doing will help,” Clayton said. “We all want to do what we can to make COVID-19 go away. The more people we can get vaccinated, the better we'll all be.”

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