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Research matters

Nurse Susanne Cruickshank wants to build on her research into recovery and 'survivorship'

The first few months of 2016 have been busy for Susanne Cruickshank. In January, she was elected chair of the RCN cancer and breast care forum. Last month, she moved from her post as senior lecturer and reader in cancer nursing at Edinburgh Napier University to become reader in cancer nursing at the University of Stirling.

It is a significant transition for Dr Cruickshank, who held her previous role for more than 12 years. She was particularly drawn to Stirling’s cancer research unit for nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals.

‘The researchers are interested in supportive care and survivorship, not just in the treatment phase but in recovery too,’ she explains. ‘I want to build on my research into recovery and survivorship.’

Dr Cruickshank’s background is in breast and haematological cancers, which have typically had better survival rates than other forms of cancer.

With the aid of a grant from charity Breast Cancer Now, she is leading a collaboration between universities to research the feasibility of nurses using a tool to assess patients’ fear of cancer recurrence. ‘It is the support need most reported when women are asked about their concerns,’ says Dr Cruickshank.

The exploratory pilot will look at a tool developed by the University of St Andrews to see if it could help nurses identify patient needs and introduce measures to alleviate fears or concerns.

While Dr Cruickshank enjoys her research career, she says it can be difficult to secure funding. ‘You need resilience because it’s competitive and a lot of funding is focused on the science of cancer rather than recovery and support,’ she says. ‘Putting in requests for money takes a lot of work and we get many rejections.’

Despite a long-held career in research, Dr Cruickshank says obtaining her PhD in 2014 was one of her proudest personal achievements. Her research involved building up evidence on the value of the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) role by examining the effectiveness of using needs assessment tools in breast cancer follow up.

‘I saw there was overlap between what the doctor did and what I did,’ she says. ‘Healthcare professionals were overlapping unnecessarily.’

Dr Cruickshank began her nursing journey at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh as a 19-year-old student. She qualified in 1987, but it was not until 1998 that she obtained her nursing degree.

‘Pursuing formal qualifications has been hugely beneficial to my work,’ she says. ‘My degree and master’s gave me a deeper understanding of how cancer develops and why, the differences between cancer types and how this affects outcomes.’

She chose to specialise in cancer nursing early in her career. Her first post after qualifying was as a staff nurse in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s maxillofacial surgical unit, where there were many patients with cancer.

‘Caring for people with cancer seemed more complex and challenging, which I found interesting and rewarding,’ she says. ‘I started reading about the specialty and immediately knew I had found an area I would enjoy working in.’

In 1996, she became CNS at NHS Borders and helped establish its nurse-led chemotherapy service – a moment she defines as her proudest nursing achievement.

Chemotherapy services were decentralised to small centres across the region, which Dr Cruickshank says made a crucial difference to the rural, geographically dispersed population. It was then that nurses began giving chemotherapy to patients, she explains.

‘That’s what I am proud of as a nurse because it helped patients. We used to give chemotherapy in a sitting room but, after years of fundraising and with financial help from Macmillan Cancer Support, we established a purpose-built, nurse-led chemotherapy service.’

Dr Cruickshank would like to see more nurses in clinical areas given an opportunity to work with research teams, which she hopes she can influence in her role as RCN forum chair.

As well as giving the forum a stronger voice and greater prominence, she wants to shine a light on oncology nurses and reach out to nurses in non-cancer settings.

‘It’s often the patients with cancer who do not find themselves in a cancer unit that need support,’ she says. ‘I want to share what oncology nurses do with those nurses who do not work in cancer units.’

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