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Why you should choose a career in cancer at Cambridge

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Careers in oncology at Cambridge University Hospitals offers nurses a fantastic opportunity to develop their skills in a specialist centre, learn new talents and introduce innovative patient-led initiatives

“Cambridge is a nice place to work,” says Janet Brook, the wellbeing and service improvement lead for cancer at Cambridge University Hospitals. That’s a massive understatement, judging by the nurses who work in oncology across the various departments.

According to Lorraine King, the senior sister in the haematology day unit, who has nursed in Australia for a number of years, cancer care is much more progressive in this country, and she says she has noticed it at CUH in particular.

“It’s great for us that Addenbrookes has such a focus on ambulatory care because nurses have to learn skills of rapid assessement and help patients with supportive self management,” she says.

Ms Brook says this is excellent in terms of the development of nurses: “They’ve got skills in terms of health coaching, self management, motivational interviewing and promoting recovery and wellbeing.”

Helen Balsdon, divisional lead nurse, cancer, says that nurses like working in the specialty because the models they use are patient led. “This holistic needs assessment and patient care planning is great for nurses – it’s about patients assessing their own needs instead of anticipating and reacting.”

The trio says that with 50% more patients anticipated to survive in ten years, the current way of doing things is not sustainable – and they urge nurses to work somewhere that is innovative and looking to do things differently.

As an acute oncology nurse, Lisa Putt has witnessed the great opportunities that CUH has offered her. She has particularly been involved in doing research with lymphoma.

“There is a great opportunity here to build skills for nurses in a department that is a centre of excellence, which is supporting patients with unusual cancers,” she says. “No nurses want to stand still and getting a chance to transform our services and be listened to and get internal and external training to support that is fantastic.”

Helen Oakley, senior clinical nurse in inpatient oncology and haematology, has spent most of her career so far in haematology, cancer and palliative care, working in hospice, acute and district nursing roles.

Despite a varied career, she says that what she prefers about working at CUH is that she has a clear vision and ownership.

“It’s a big organisation, and there are lots of opportunities – here it feels like you are working in a district general hospital serving the local community but also working in a highly specialised service and foundation trust.”

Despite having moved away from Addenbrooke’s earlier in her career, Ms Oakley returned and says that the trust was happy to welcome her back, just as it is to send people on rotation. For example, she’s set up one for staff to work in the local hospice – Arthur Rank House – to give staff a more holistic view.  Supporting nurses’ development is always the top priority.

She also says she has enjoyed being able to play a part in innovating. “There’s a lot of freedom here,” she says. “For example, I noticed people complaining about noise at night, so a nurse found a noiseometer and measured the noise of discharge generated so we could take action to fix it.”

And she says the training is phenomenal. She is doing a counselling and leadership skills course to improve her personal development.

Completing the tour, the team at the oncology day unit are just as enthusiastic about their work. Having been shortlisted for a Care Integration Award this year for their outreach service, they are positive about how their trust listens to them to implement improvements, which they says maintains their morale when the NHS is getting a lot of “negative” press.

Junior sister Clare Disney says that although she temporarily went elsewhere to work, it was the teaching and research that brought her back to Addenbrookes.

Junior sister Heather Aldhouse agrees but says it is the patients’ attitudes combined with a demanding and complex workload that keeps her going. “It’s physically and emotionally demanding to work with people who have a cancer diagnosis,” she says. “But the patients are absolutely brilliant. They keep us going.”

Ms Aldhouse also says the team support throughout this demanding work is incredible, with managers who have an open door policy and and a hands-on team. “People say my work must be ‘awful’, but that is not true. It’s amazing to work here. When I came for an interview, I overheard a group of four patients talking about the unit and saying how amazing it was. Their fondness for this unit made me know this was where I wanted to work,” says staff nurse Christine Foreman. “They didn’t know who I was, so that was a genuine endorsement. I have always remembered it.”

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