My job

The varied role of a Macmillan cancer nurse consultant

Macmillan cancer nurse consultant Ann Muls on embracing an holistic outlook and why the profession offers opportunities to learn and grow daily

Macmillan cancer nurse consultant Ann Muls on embracing an holistic outlook and why the profession offers opportunities to learn and grow daily


Ann Muls

What is your job?

I am a Macmillan nurse consultant in gastrointestinal cancer and deal with the consequences of treatment.

What does your job involve?

It is varied. It has a clinical aspect in assessing, investigating and managing people who experience long-term changes in their bowel function following treatment for cancer across tumour types. Teaching and training also features high on the agenda as this is still quite a new field. I am also involved in clinical research, such as observational studies, service evaluation, auditing and publishing papers.

Why did you become a nurse?

I am fascinated by people, their stories and their journeys. I think this is particularly important when people are facing cancer treatment. The nursing profession offers so many opportunities to learn and grow daily. I figured it could never be boring.

How did you come to work in the field?

When I was training, I had two placements in oncology and the teams were so inspirational, it was where I felt I could achieve the most.

What might you have done otherwise?

To become a theatre or opera set designer, but I was not aware of where you could train for this and I did not think it was a 'real' job when I was younger.

Where have you worked previously?

I originally trained in Belgium at the Catholic University Hospital of Leuven in the Flanders. After graduating, I came to London to gain work experience in a different healthcare system and improve my English. I was only meant to be here for two years, but I am still enjoying it 17 years later.

My first job as a junior nurse was on the acute oncology ward in Charing Cross Hospital, London, where I was encouraged and inspired by the ward manager to provide the best care possible and enjoy what you are doing.

I moved on to a clinical nurse specialist role in palliative care at University Hospital Lewisham, where I worked in the community and hospital teams. This highlighted the importance of seamless care across settings, especially during on-call weekends.

My long-term aim is to incorporate a pan-pelvic holistic approach and include long-term urinary problems, sexual concerns and fatigue in more detail than we do now.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The variety. The different aspects mean you must be flexible and juggle many things at the same time, but this keeps it interesting. Mostly, I like the leadership and being able to work as a senior nurse at a strategic level while remaining clinically active.

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

The way we understand health and disease is undergoing a major shift with the emerging research in the microbiome. This will change the way we diagnose, prevent, manage and treat many diseases in the future. In addition, I think digital technology has the great potential to revolutionise the way we practise.

My concern for the future is that super-specialising nursing roles rather than fostering a greater skill set across different settings may compartmentalise health care rather than make it more person-centred and holistic.

What qualities do you think a cancer nurse should possess?

Empathy, kindness, creativity, openness, communication and listening skills are only some of the qualities any nurse should develop throughout their career.

What nursing achievement are you proudest of?

Being awarded a National Institute for Health Research clinical doctoral fellowship grant, which allows me to do my PhD while still being clinically active part time.

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

Take your time and be curious. 

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