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How did you become a... Specialist Screening Practitioner?

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Think this might be the career for you? Nicola talks us through what the role entails and how you can follow in her footsteps


Name - Nicola Bell

Current post - Specialist Screening Practitioner (SSP) in the Bowel Cancer Screening Service


Why did you became a specialist screening practitioner?

My background is in oncology and palliative care and I worked for 15 years in palliative care and lung cancer. I did feel that I needed a break from this type of nursing and applied for this post within the bowel screening service. I wanted to still work with patients on the cancer pathway but in a different setting.


What qualifications do you need?

  • Registered Nurse
  • All post holders have to take a module at degree level on the role of the SSP. This module only takes place at Liverpool John Moores University


What do you like about your role?

Caring for people along a pathway from having a suspected cancer to either a cancer diagnosis or not. Being able to use my skills as a cancer nurse in supporting them through this process.

Engaging in new learning experiences within the endoscopy setting.

Being able to support nurses in the endoscopy units I work in through informal and formal teaching around supportive care and advanced communication skills.

At present I am also enjoying completing my final part of a Master’s degree and my dissertation is looking at supportive skills used in the endoscopy unit.



What are the challenges to this role?

The main challenge I have faced is moving to a public health role. The focus working in public health is often on the ‘herd’ rather than the individual and this can be challenging at times to be an advocate for the patient.

When people enter the screening programme, their journey is captured on the open Exeter system. Often people do not ‘fit’ into this system and again this is a challenge convincing others that sometimes we need to forget the system and look at the individual.



What advice would you offer nurses who want to follow in your footsteps?

To be prepared for the SSP module as this is quite a tough course which requires a lot of time and work. (I was fortunate to have a very understanding manager who gave me time off to study, other peers on the course were not so lucky)

Have confidence in their ability to assess patient’s fitness for endoscopic procedures in community clinic environments.

To be able to adapt to changing environments and work patterns as bowel screening centres begin to develop ‘bowel scope’ (one of flexible sigmoidoscopy for all people aged 55)

Be able to work as part of a team

Advocate for the importance of the role being a nursing role not a technician or a HCA role.



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