My job

'Reflecting on patient feedback reminds us of our privileged position'

Thoracic surgery and mesothelioma UK nurse specialist Joanne Hargrave discusses her unique and collaborative role

Thoracic surgery and mesothelioma UK nurse specialist Joanne Hargrave discusses her unique and collaborative role

What is your job?

Joanne Hargrave

I have a combined role as a thoracic surgery and mesothelioma UK nurse specialist based at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. I work alongside thoracic surgeons and oncologists in the treatment of patients with mesothelioma, primary lung or metastatic cancer involving the chest.

My mesothelioma UK post is funded by a legacy grant from the charity, The Pat Stone Trust. I am one of 18 mesothelioma lung nurse specialists in the UK. 

What does your job involve?

Collaboration. I work alongside thoracic surgeons, oncologists, respiratory physicians, clinical nurse specialists, and trials practitioners from local, regional and national centres.

My role is about supporting outpatients across the stages of their care; from breaking bad news about a diagnosis, treatment discussion and planning, surveillance or end of life planning. One single clinic will usually encompass all of these consultations.

I meet patients who are referred from across the south and south west of England to discuss mesothelioma trials and treatments. It is so important to establish and maintain robust links with my clinical nurse specialists colleagues for these patients. We are often the glue that holds the care pathway together. This makes patients feel supported and confident that their team are all working together.

Why did you become a nurse?

It’s something I grew into wanting to do. Two close family members had treatment for cancer when I was a child. I can remember watching the busy nurses. They seemed so capable and knowledgeable.

Why did you choose to specialise?

I worked in general medicine for 18 months post-registration. Then I transferred a patient to the thoracic unit at a nearby hospital, and something just clicked. I was lucky enough to get a post there, and 20 years later I’m still in the thoracic speciality. I’ve held various clinical and educator roles with thoracics and been a nurse specialist for the last seven years.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked in centres with recognised expertise in mesothelioma patient care. This has taught me so much and I became more and more interested in the role of the mesothelioma clinical nurse specialists.

What might you have done otherwise?

I considered joining the police force for a while, but I think I’m a bit too soft for that.

Where have you worked previously?

Before my nurse training I worked in a music shop for a few years which was good fun and wildly different to what I do now. During my training, I worked in care homes for additional hands-on experience.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Helping my patients and their families make sense of their diagnosis and treatment options is incredibly rewarding. I meet patients and families at some of the most devastating times in their lives. All sense of ‘normal’ has usually been lost. Mesothelioma patients are given a rare diagnosis that most have never heard of, a poor prognosis and then varying degrees of information about their treatment options.

What qualities do you think a cancer nurse should possess?

Empathy, patience, tenacity, and curiosity to learn. Although I’d like to think all nurses should possess these qualities.

What nursing achievement are you proudest of?

My current post. I also have lots of little moments of a sense of making a difference to patients and their family, remembering messages and words of thanks. These are always lovely to reflect on and to remind ourselves of what a privileged position we hold.

What advice would you give a newly-qualified nurse in your field?

Start with a generalist role, get a flavour for different aspects of nursing. This is a fabulous time for getting exposure to many different scenarios and can give you a solid introduction to nursing. It’s a career that can take you in so many directions, with opportunities that you cannot imagine in those early days. Once you find an interest that you feel a connection with, stick with it, explore it. Don’t be frightened to focus your interest or feel this limits your options; you will be our specialist nurses of the future.

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