My job

Harnessing the power of robotics allows me to retain the human touch

Royal Marsden theatre nurse Marie Taniacao on how her high-tech role enhances patient contact throughout the clinical pathway 

Royal Marsden theatre nurse Marie Taniacaoh on how her high-tech role enhances patient contact throughout the clinical pathway 

Picture shows theatre nurse Marie Taniacao with the da Vinci Xi robotic surgical system. Her course at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust will give her the skills to assist surgeons during robotic operations.
Theatre nurse Marie Taniacao with the da Vinci Xi robotic surgical system
Picture: Dominick Tyler

As a nurse training in the Philippines in the 1990s, Marie Taniacao dreamed of becoming a theatre nurse. But she had no idea then just how far her ambition would take her.

‘Being a nurse who is able to assist during surgery would have been beyond my imagination as a student,’ says Ms Taniacao. ‘Now I’m doing my dream job and it’s at a more advanced level than I could have ever anticipated. I never thought then that I would be able to reach this far.’

Earlier this year she became the first robotic nurse fellow at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London in the first hospital-based scheme of its kind in the UK.

Innovation is about doing the best for the patient

‘It’s very exciting,’ says Ms Taniacao, whose training will make her a surgical care practitioner, with the knowledge and skills to assist surgeons during robotic operations. ‘The Royal Marsden is always at the forefront of innovation, with the aim of doing what is best for the patient.’

The first ‘da Vinci’ robot was used to treat patients with prostate cancer at the Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer centre, in 2007. Ten years on, the trust became the first in England to use the latest model, the da Vinci Xi.

‘Who would have thought that robots would be doing operations with a consultant away from the patient? We never thought that could happen,’ says Ms Taniacao.

The advanced version of the device offers a magnified 3D view inside the patient’s body and has arms that move independently from the main robot, enabling surgeons to operate on several different areas of the body at once.

The robot has a dual console that enables risk-free training for surgeons, as part of the trust’s fellowship programme. The system has been found to be ideal for prostate cancer surgery, and its application has now been extended to breast, gynaecological, gastrointestinal, bladder and testicular cancers.

‘My mentor told me I needed a lot of training and to stay focused. I thought “When I get this opportunity, I will work hard”’

As part of a two-year nurse fellowship funded by the hospital’s charity, Ms Taniacao is studying for a master’s degree in surgical care practice, specialising in gynaecological, upper gastrointestinal and colorectal surgery.

The chance to follow the patient throughout their journey

She is now almost halfway through her course, and by the end of it she will have a deep knowledge and understanding of robotic surgery, comparable to that of a junior doctor. In practice, she will be at the patient’s side during surgery, while surgeons carry out the operation using a console. The nurse's responsibilities can include procedures such as suctioning and retraction.

Ms Taniacao qualified in 1995 and moved to the UK in 2001. She worked in a coronary care unit before moving to the Royal Marsden in 2006. Following roles in recovery and as a scrub nurse, she became a surgical first assistant before her current trainee post.

‘My excitement is in seeing the patient throughout the clinical pathway – from clinic, inside theatre, back on the ward and follow-up’

‘My passion has always been inside the theatre,’ she says. ‘As a student, when I visited a theatre for the first time I loved it and thought, “How do I get this job?”. My mentor told me I needed a lot of training and to stay focused. I thought then, “When I get this opportunity, I will work hard.”

Among the key attractions of her role is the chance to follow the patient through their journey, rather than simply seeing them when they get to theatre.

‘My role is 80% inside the theatre and 20% outside,’ she explains. ‘My excitement is in seeing the patient throughout the clinical pathway – from the clinic, inside the theatre, back on the ward and then follow-up.

‘My driving force is I want to do more for my patients, providing the latest evidence-based treatments to make their lives much better’

‘I’m there throughout, and that’s the reason I wanted to do this. It makes my role very satisfying.’

‘Human relationships are at the core of everything’

For some, what she is doing may seem a long way from the traditional image of nursing. ‘Not everyone accepts change or something new,’ says Ms Taniacao. ‘There can be resistance and questioning, but I’ve accepted that there will be some negative comments.

‘My driving force is that I want to do more for my patients, providing the latest evidence-based treatments to make their lives much better.’

Ambition to share knowledge

Looking ahead, she would like to be involved in more teaching. ‘I’d like to be able to share what I’ve achieved so far, imparting my knowledge and experience with future healthcare professionals, especially nurses,’ says Ms Taniacao.

‘If you have a passion you should go for it, accepting that it won’t always be easy but focusing on what you want to do.’

Being a nurse is still fundamental to the care she provides. ‘The aim is to promote clinical expertise without losing the human touch,’ she explains.

‘Human relationships are at the core of everything. As a nurse I’m there to help my patients – it’s the same. Even in this advanced world, we still want human beings to be with us.’


Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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