My job

How the Royal Marsden hospital left a lasting impact on my career

Radiation oncology nurse in Ireland Jennifer Matthews discusses how clinical research is moving 'at ground-breaking speed'

Jennifer Matthews is a radiation oncology nurse, University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, Whitfield Cancer Centre in Waterford, Republic of Ireland

What does your job involve?

I work as part of a team of three specialist oncology nurses in a nurse-led clinic caring for patients receiving radiotherapy treatment for all types and stages of cancer.

Jennifer Matthews

This involves education, assessment and management of patients in relation to side effects and providing support throughout their treatment. I am also the lead nurse for clinical trials in our centre. It is the radiotherapy centre for the southeast of Ireland and we have a truly amazing team so I feel very lucky to be where I am.

Why did you choose to specialise?

I didn’t choose. My first real introduction was working as an agency nurse in The Royal Marsden Hospital in London. It opened my eyes to the complexity of cancer and cancer treatments, and to what patients go through. Recognising the vital role specialist cancer nurses play in caring for people with a cancer diagnosis and the complexity of their needs really resonated with me and I knew this was where I wanted to specialise. 

It is where I was introduced to clinical research in oncology and radiotherapy – ultimately the two areas I have chosen to specialise in.

Where have you worked previously?

Having completed my training in University College Cork and Bons Secours Hospital in Cork, I spent some time working in Sydney, Australia. I then moved to London where I worked for 12 years in The Royal Marsden Hospital progressing to the role of team lead in clinical research. I recieved my oncology nursing qualification with The Royal Marsden and Imperial College London.

I had always wanted to return to Ireland, but leaving a job I loved was difficult and I feel lucky to have had the chance to learn as much as I did while working there. I returned to Cork as clinical nurse manager 2 in the Oncology Day Unit in the Bon Secours Hospital, then to the Irish Cancer Society as a cancer information nurse in the Daffodil Centre and then as a research nurse in Cork University Hospital and University College Cork.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love the diversity of my role and being constantly challenged. I use every aspect of what I have learned in my career to date. No two patients are the same and no two days are the same and I love turning up to work every day knowing the day will present a new set of challenges. I get to draw on my clinical skills, my clinical research experience, my general nursing knowledge and experience, my coaching skills and everything in between on a daily basis.

What are the challenges for cancer nursing practice in the 21st century?

Thankfully clinical research is moving at ground-breaking speed with new, more advanced targeted treatments and techniques coming into practice all the time. Oncology nurses need to keep up to speed with these specific and specialised treatments to ensure they are delivering the best possible patient care, education and maintaining safety. It’s so important we stay at the forefront of our specialty, but as everyone knows, with the current strain on nurses, having the time and resources to undertake continued educated and training is an ongoing challenge.

What qualities do you think a cancer nurse should possess?

All nurses, no matter what speciality, require the same qualities overall – compassion, empathy, dedication, pursuit of excellence in patient care, critical thinking, being a team player yet being able to step up as a leader when required and one of the most crucial: resilience.

What inspires you?

My colleagues and my patients – witnessing what each of my colleagues brings to the team and how dedicated each of them are to giving 110% every day. Always with a smile and good humour.

What nursing achievement are you most proud of?

Two things. My contribution to many clinical trials that directly impacted how we treat cancer patients and my nomination for staff achievement award in my final year working at the Royal Marsden. It was such a lovely memory to leave with.

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