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Interview with Mary Wood – Oncology Nurse of the Year

18 April 2019

Mary is a Nurse Consultant in Lymphoedema at the Royal Marsden. Last month she won the BJN ‘Oncology Nurse of the Year’ accolade. UKONS spoke to her about her introduction to cancer nursing, her interest in Lymphoedema and her feelings about oncology nursing in general.

Mary is a very experienced nurse who trained ‘some years ago’ at Barnet General Hospital. She recalls enjoying nursing patients with cancer during her training and thinking this could be a possible career. After a brief dalliance with neurology nursing at Queens Square Hospital in Central London she enrolled on the oncology course at the Royal Marsden. After this she ‘stuck around’ working as a ward sister on the sarcoma and then breast wards. In both of these areas she vividly remembers meeting large numbers of patients with Lymphoedema and considering how much more the problem meant to patients than ‘just a big limb’. Her interest developed further, and she took advantage of some Department of Health funding to start a research project into the psychological impact of Lymphoedema; an interest which has endured to the present day. The Lymphoedema service had been set up as a pioneering speciality at the Royal Marsden by Dr Caroline Badger and Mary moved into the service to develop the practical side of the delivery.

She is unique in still being involved with Lymphoedema services since their inception and is happy to report the massive improvements in patients care within her speciality over the last 15-20 years. Specifically, she talks about the recognition of Lymphoedema management as a speciality in its own right and the realisation of the massive impact of Lymphoedema on patients’ physical and mental wellbeing. However, she also recognises that Lymphoedema management is still regarded as a ‘Cinderella’ service and there are still huge variations in the expertise patients and carers are able to access in different areas of the country. One of her ambitions is to try and integrate an increased awareness of Lymphoedema and its management into general nurse training.

Her successful project which resulted in the ‘Oncology Nurse of the Year’ prize was developed by Mary in response to the education and development needs of practitioners of all disciplines who work within her Lymphoedema service. A clear framework and attached competencies were required to maintain the highest standards of care and focus support and clinical supervision as professionals developed their skills in managing Lymphoedema and caring for this wide-ranging and diverse group of patients.

Towards the end of the interview Mary outlined some of her feelings about oncology nursing in general and the challenges which face us in the future. She was pleased to see the care of cancer patients high on the government’s agenda in the Long Term Plan for the Health Service in England and the emphasis on caring for patients in the community as much as possible. She felt major challenges faced cancer nursing in developing our response to increasing complexity of patients with wider ranges of novel therapies.

UKONS would like to congratulate Mary once again on her prize, one which was richly deserved; her project reflecting a lifetime’s work in cancer nursing from a thoughtful and dedicated specialist nurse.