My job

60 seconds with Royal Marsden head of pastoral care and psychological support Sara Lister

Behind every person, there’s a story, and patients deserve your time, attention and care, says head of pastoral care and psychological support Sara Lister

Behind every person, there’s a story, and patients deserve your time and attention, says head of pastoral care and psychological support Sara Lister


Sara Lister says she hopes the Marsden
Manual helps nurses to deliver effective,
patient-focused care

Sara Lister qualified as a nurse in 1988 in London. While in a nurse teacher role at the RCN in 1992, she was one of the first lecturer-practitioners to lead mandatory training and induction programmes for nurses. She joined the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in 2000 as deputy chief nurse, and in 2001 established The Royal Marsden School, one of the UK’s leading specialist cancer schools. She has co-edited The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures for the last 17 years, and is also the trust’s head of psychological support and pastoral care. 

What are your main work responsibilities?
Managing the department that provides psychological and spiritual support for patients, relatives and hospital staff. 

How did you get your job?
I took seven years out to train as a counsellor. I wanted a job where I could spend more time providing direct patient care. 

Who are your clients?
Patients who are finding it difficult to cope emotionally with their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

What do you love about your job?
Counselling gives me the opportunity to give dedicated time to patients who are facing tough challenges. As a nurse teacher, I support the next generation of nurses who rely on the Marsden Manual to help them deliver effective, patient-focused care. 

What do you find most difficult?
Making decisions about where to spend the scarce resources I have.

What is your top priority?
That patients referred to us for counselling get the care and support they need in a good timeframe. 

What has been your most formative career experience?
In 2006, I spent seven months in Kyrgyzstan setting up a project, teaching the principles of palliative care to local doctors and nurses. 

If you hadn’t have become a nurse what would you have been instead?
A florist. 

What’s your next career move?
Editing the tenth edition of the Marsden Manual. As well as new chapter authors, we have some great ideas about how to make it available and accessible for nurses and the new nurse associates training on the job. We’re also launching a Royal Marsden cancer companion. 

What’s the best lesson nursing has taught you?
Behind every person you meet, there’s a story, and patients deserve your time, attention and care. If someone is angry and shouting at you, there is usually something going on in the background.

What career advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t seek promotion too quickly – you can learn so much from patients. I left the bedside quickly, but wish I had stayed longer in clinical practice and had more time to spend with patients. 

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