My job

My job: Influencing policy through my nurse manager role

Chief of nursing Karen Roberts on providing clinical expertise and advice to Macmillan Cancer Support

Chief of nursing Karen Roberts on providing clinical expertise and advice to Macmillan Cancer Support


Chief of nursing and allied health professionals Karen Roberts

What is your job?

My role in Macmillan Cancer Support is about providing clinical expertise and advice to the charity and supporting its many strands of work in cancer care and treatment. I work closely with Macmillan’s chief medical officers Rosie Loftus and Jane Maher to support all areas of the charity’s work that require strategic nursing and allied health professional (AHP) involvement. Unlike other senior nursing roles I have held in the NHS, this post requires me to work alongside our policy and influencing team so we can make a difference at national policy level for people living with cancer.

What are your main responsibilities?

The main responsibilities of this role are strategic in that I have to be able to look at the nursing and AHP landscape in the NHS, and help Macmillan to achieve its ambition to help everyone with cancer live life as fully as they can. This means that our exciting and new five-year strategy can be communicated and delivered across the UK, ensuring that people with cancer can understand how Macmillan can support them from the point of diagnosis through to end of life care.

Acting as a spokesperson for Macmillan is an essential part of my role to ensure that the organisation’s internal and external messages reach the public and the many healthcare professionals who deliver high-quality care and support to people with cancer every day. 

Why did you become a nurse?

I became a nurse because I had a desire to help people who had health issues, but also I loved working with the public. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working alongside the huge variety of talented people across Macmillan, from our front-line Macmillan professionals to our policy, media and specialist advisory teams; their combined commitment to the work of the charity and people with cancer is breath taking.

How and where have you developed leadership skills?

My most influential experience was being part of a cohort of senior nurses selected to undertake a two-year King’s Fund leadership programme in 2002. This programme broadened my leadership experience and included European and international placements to understand different healthcare systems and how the NHS can learn from other countries.

And how does your current job make use of your skills?

I have held Macmillan nurse posts in acute oncology, palliative care and in a cancer alliance. These operational and strategic cancer nursing skills help me to contribute to Macmillan’s commitment and drive to improve cancer care in the UK.

What is the greatest challenge?

Workforce and funding. It is a difficult climate out on the NHS front line today, with nursing and AHP skills shortages. Driving forward a quality agenda to keep cancer patients safe and well cared for is challenging for our teams on the ground.   

What inspires you?

I travel around the UK a lot and, despite all of the current pressures in the NHS system, I see healthcare professionals continue to deliver incredible services and never stop striving to improve and innovate. They keep the needs of people with cancer and their families at the heart of everything they do.

What do you do in your free time?

I love spending time at home with my sons, family and friends. I am a keen gardener and also like to play tennis.

What achievement makes you most proud?

Becoming the first chief of nursing and AHPs for a charity that I have had a close relationship with since 1993, when I held my first Macmillan clinical nurse specialist post.

What makes a good nurse leader?

Someone with vision, integrity, humility and a bucket full of courage to ensure that the nursing voice is heard.

What advice would you like to pass onto students and junior staff?

To remember that to be alongside people when they are sick or at their most vulnerable is a privilege and an honour. We must never lose sight of the need for kind and compassionate care to be delivered alongside complex treatments in a digital era.

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