Lisa Nolan

Lisa's Story

If you are thinking of doing a course with Pitman Training Swords, you might like to hear from someone who has recently graduated.


Originally a nurse & midwife, I have been working as a PA and office administrator for 16 years, 12 of which have been working from home. I am a great believer in continuing education so every couple of years I would take on a course that would challenge me.  When my working week was reduced in 2011, I decided that the extra time was an opportunity to extend my skills, widen my job prospects and increase my income. 
At the same time the idea of starting my own business was forming in my head so I was looking very specifically for a course that would give me a qualification to support this and the additional skills I needed to make the business work.


I spent some time researching advanced courses in office administration and even visited other providers. Then I came across Pitman Training in Swords.  I knew Pitman was an internationally recognised qualification so I phoned for information.  Maria invited me to visit the centre to discuss my existing skills and educational needs - and I haven’t looked back since!
Maria and Roy spent quite a bit of time really examining my CV and helping me to identify the skills that would bring me to the next level in my career.  They also looked at the obstacles that I was worried might hinder my ability to complete modules – the main one being the distance from home.  They offered me the option of doing the Executive PA Diploma (and later Legal Secretary Diploma) by distance learning, which was the perfect solution for me.
I found their enthusiasm and optimism very refreshing and the support and encouragement of all staff in Pitman Training Swords continued throughout my course.  Hand on heart, every time I left the centre I felt I could take on the world!  If I was struggling with a module, there was no pressure and they encouraged me to keep going.


I completed the course via my laptop at home.  Each time I completed a module I went to the Pitman Training Centre in Swords to do that exam and have the next module loaded onto my laptop.  I would go home again and continue to work through the lessons at times that suited me and my family.  That flexibility was key to completing my Diplomas.  I didn’t waste time commuting, I saved on diesel and parking charges and I didn’t have to restrict my study time around opening times in the centre or the availability of a workstation. I could study in the evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays if that suited me better and I didn’t need to organize childcare.
The learning model that Pitman Training uses is designed for maximum benefits for the student.  It combines audio instruction with constant practice and revision so it works on all the senses – hearing, seeing, doing and reviewing!  If you miss something or didn’t quite get the hang of it, you can rewind it and listen again and the exercises at the end of each lesson consolidate all that you have learned so that you really know it and are ready to move on.
This particularly suited me because I don’t like to cram for hours. I prefer to study for short periods and then go and digest the information, or even put it into practice at work to really consolidate what I had learned. I find I retain information better that way.
I could study for an hour or two, then take a break for something to eat, go for a walk or do a school run and come back to it later when I felt more refreshed.


I firmly believe that there is no better investment you can make than in yourself and your education.
Qualifications add weight to your CV and give you a wider pool of jobs to choose from.  The fees are a fraction of what you might pay for a full-time course, but you will still get a qualification that’s known worldwide, that employers are impressed by and that will land you a job.  Even if you already have office skills, as I did, a Pitman Training course will bring you that extra mile on your career path.
Most importantly, when you are working towards a qualification that WILL change your future for the better, you have a sense of hope.  Hope and self-confidence are two things that no-one can take away from you, and they can’t put a tax on it! 
So if you are thinking of investing in yourself, I would say – absolutely, go for it!


I had a good range of office skills already but the Pitman Diplomas brought them to the next level. I am now an expert, not only in Microsoft Office and the subjects covered in the modules I chose, but in terms of my ability to adapt quickly to other technologies and platforms.
I introduced new office procedures and templates for my part-time employers.  They have praised the level of expertise I now have and have noted how it has made everything more efficient and professional for them.
Views on my LinkedIn profile by key influencers increased noticeably when I added the Pitman Training qualifications and several of my connections from around the world have commented on the wide range of skills I have.
I have been able to answer people’s questions in online forums, showing myself to be an expert and making sure they remember me - which they have!
I am now completely confident in my ability to take on any office task and produce high quality work. Self confidence was never my strong point, so I’m especially happy to be so sure of my abilities now that I can actively market my skills and be confident in knowing what I’m ‘worth’ to an employer.
Best of all, this new confidence has enabled to set up my own business as a VA to supplement my part-time income for now, and hopefully develop into a successful way of earning a full-time income doing exactly what I love. 


A VA is a Virtual Administrator or Virtual Assistant who works on an hourly or retainer basis for businesses or individuals, i.e. an online Personal Assistant.
VAs are widely used in the UK, North America and the Far East and there is small but growing number here.  Many professionals now work virtually (think web designers, copy-writers, social media managers, etc) and I really believe Virtual Assistance has a promising future because it’s such an efficient way of working for both the freelancer and the client. Plus, if you are a VA, you get to choose you work with!  Healthcare is my niche area because I was a nurse previously and I know the sector inside out.  To my knowledge I am the only VA in Ireland who is also a qualified nurse & midwife.  Many VAs have a niche area, e.g. law, conveyancing, PR, HR, etc.  Some have general business knowledge and therefore most of their clients would be SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises). If you have knowledge of a particular area and also the skills of an Executive PA you will be particularly sought after for work as an employed PA or as a freelancing VA.
The internet is now my office and when you are doing business on the internet, the world is your market - that’s a pretty big market!  I have had several clients (from Ireland and the U.S.) for once-off projects and they have referred their friends and colleagues to me. I have a special interest in health literacy and I have used my new skills to develop health literacy tools and resources that are now being used by healthcare professionals and patients worldwide.  Just recently I took on my first client on a retainer basis, (and if I had to describe who my ‘ideal’ client would be, she is just that!).  I have big plans for the coming years – more plans and ideas than I have time for if I’m honest – so my future is looking very bright and the sense of hope I felt after my first visit to Pitman Training in Swords is now fixed and permanent! 


From my own experience of doing the course, here are my 10 top tips for successful completion of your Pitman Training course:
  • Keep going.  Even if you find the subject of any module difficult to understand, keep going.  Trust the Pitman Training method – it will work!  The modules are designed for adult learners so if you follow each lesson in turn you will be amazed how much you know by the time you finish the module!
  • In the rare cases where you still haven't understood or grasped the content, just redo the lesson.  One of the benefits of doing it at home is this option, so use it!  It's not a failure on your part; it's being thorough and giving yourself the best chance to learn.  If you knew everything already you wouldn’t be doing the course!
  • I found it helpful to do the exercise at the end of each lesson at least a day after completing the lesson - it was a good way to check what I had actually learned and revise anything I had not taken in.
  • Keep the Pitman e-newsletters in your e-mail inbox for times when you need extra motivation. Keep in touch regularly with the staff in the training centre, even when things are going well.  This was my self-imposed ‘accountability’ exercise and it helped me make sure I met my own deadlines for completing modules.  It’s especially important to make contact if you have fallen behind your planned schedule.  They will reassure you and help motivate you to get back on track.
  • I found it useful to mark information in the workbooks that I did not know before – whatever was brand new information for me was hit with a green highlighter! This made it easier to scan through the book for revision before the exam.  A lot of the Legal Secretarial modules included background information on points of law.  I found it very helpful to write out main points in a separate notebook (using different colour pens and highlighters).  This helped the learning process and also with revision because I could carry those notes around with me and revise whenever I had a few minutes to spare.
  • I also made notes if I found something that I could implement at work immediately. This provides valuable practice and also the chance to show off your new and indispensible skills to your employer. 
  • Keep a track of your progress.  Each time you complete a module cross it off your list and congratulate or reward yourself for it.  I designed an Excel sheet and used colours to fill in each completed lesson and module, along with exam results at the end of the columns to keep me motivated.  It was also a great way to ‘see’ the end of the course and count down to it.
  • Learning something new can be tiring!  If you are too tired just stop, rest and go back to it later.  It's unproductive to try and learn if you are too tired.
  • It can be easy to ‘just check’ your social media on your laptop before opening a lesson.  If social media is your time thief, make yourself do at least 30 minutes of the lesson before ‘rewarding’ yourself with a little browse (for 5 minutes – no more!) before getting back to the course.
  • Ensure that your laptop programmes are kept up to date with full virus protection etc, so that you don't lose precious studying time if your laptop has crashed.
Good luck! 

---Lisa Nolan ---