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'It's very intense looking after patients with cancer'

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From care on the battlefield to cancer research, Marian Coliof tells us how his work still save lives

Marian Coliof (also known as Mario) has been honoured with medals for providing medical support to soldiers in active service but, these days, it’s fighting for the health of his patients on the wards that keeps him busy.

After qualifying in 1999, the Romanian-born nurse was employed by the Army National Service to provide emergency medical support to troops in Kosovo. “I loved working in A&E and emergency situations,” he says. “Because you only have one chance to do it right.”

His work was challenging, dangerous and interesting, and he is proud of the lives he saved - not just through his care but also by teaching soldiers how to look after casualties until they could be seen by a nurse. “I have three medals of honour from the Italian government, Romanian government and non-article 5 Balkans UN, and am happy to have received these while I am still alive,” he says. “That’s rare.”

His survival has ensured the survival of literally thousands of others; he now works as a clinical trials nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
“After working in Stockport in dementia and Alzheimer’s, I moved to London and focused on spinal injury. I was familiar with this because I worked on ski championships as well as in the military, and had been trained to do helicopter evacuations for neck and spinal injuries.”

Inspired to work at the “biggest and best hospital in my opinion,” Mr Coliof joined Addenbrooke’s in 2008. Starting in gastroenterology, he quickly became interested in haematology and bone marrow transplants, becoming chemo competent.

“Here the high standard of care is not just about the patient, but their families. It’s really intense looking after patients with cancer because they can become very ill in under three hours - the nurse is responsible for doing the right observations at the right time to maintain their safety,” he says. This professional interest in chemotherapy and cancer led him to apply for his current role as a clinical trials nurse in January 2011.

“My background in cancer research and haematology definitely helped, but this is a varied role and still requires you to put the patient at the centre of the work.”
Trials can relate to medical products, radiotherapy, drugs or other treatments, and any number can be running at the same time. “My specialism is lung and oesophageal cancers, but I can cover colleagues’ trials in breast or prostate cancers - our knowledge has to be that wide,” says Mr Coliof.

The job involves telling patients and families about the trial and side-effects; answering their questions; giving them information so they can make an informed choice about participating; organising the tests that take baseline readings and provide progress outcomes, such as CT, MRI, ultrasound and bone scans; giving treatment; processing blood samples; getting results; and observing patients to ensure their safety. As trials usually involve 50-500 participants, keeping track of the in and outpatients is vital for their safety, quality of life and trial success. That usually means seeing a patient at least every three weeks but it can be more often. With trials lasting 16-18 months, a commitment from nurses and patients is significant.

Mr Coliof adores his job: some 75-80% of his role is direct patient care, but he still does general shifts at the hospital to maintain his hands-on skills and dedicates extra hours to reading about the latest cancer research and clinical trials.

“Many of the trials are worldwide, so we get together with colleagues from around the world to see how the multiple trial centres’ work is panning out. That’s rewarding and educational.

“It’s been proven that clinical trials have increased the life expectancy of some patients with certain conditions by up to two years. It’s not as immediate as saving a life on the battlefield, but my reward is knowing that I am helping to save many more lives in the next generation and to give a better quality of life.”

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