To celebrate International Nurses Day on May 12th we speak to local Macmillan skin cancer specialist nurse Lynsey Atkinson; who lives just outside Ballymoney with her husband and three children. We find out what inspired her to join nursing, what a typical day is like and why she is proud to be a nurse.
- Where do you work?
“I’m a Macmillan skin cancer clinical nurse specialist working with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, mostly working within the Causeway and Braid Valley Hospital sites.
2. What do you like to do in your spare time?
“Not that there is much free time with work and children, but I like meeting up with friends, eating, walking and playing the piano. I love a day out to the North Coast with family and bringing a picnic. I have recently taken up paddle boarding too when we can fit it in!
3. What inspired you to become a nurse?
“I really had not thought of a career in nursing until the summer after I completed my A-Levels. I was working in a caring role and realised the pathway I had planned wasn’t for me, and nursing was instead the career I wanted to pursue. I had to wait until the following year to apply for nursing, and thankfully was successful and the rest is history!
4. What was your training like?
“I trained through Queens University, Belfast. Our training was a combination of classroom taught material, and clinical placements. I had a great variety of placements during the three years, with valuable learning experiences, which equipped me to take up a post in the Belfast City Hospital post registration. Our year group had plenty of fun too, and I made many friends along the way.”
5. What is your current role and main responsibilities?
“My current role is as a Macmillan skin cancer clinical nurse specialist. I work alongside the dermatology team in the Northern Trust, under the remit of cancer services. I see patients who have a skin cancer diagnosis, usually those with melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and some of the other rarer forms of skin cancer. While this involves clinical expertise to review and assess patients the most important aspect of my work is to act as the Key Worker for my patients. This involves supporting patients and their families through their diagnosis, surgery or other treatment, until discharge or unfortunately palliative care. My role involves a lot of education to help patients self-manage their condition, observe for new skin cancers or recurrences, and also reduce the likelihood of developing further skin cancers.
6. What is your favourite part of the job?
“I love all the parts of my job, but one of the highlights would be discharging a patient from our service following a period of clinical review with the ‘all-clear’, in the knowledge they feel confident to self-manage their condition through self-surveillance following education, and feel emotionally strong enough to be discharged after what is often a very difficult time for them.”
7. What is difficult about your job?
“Working within the cancer speciality is very challenging at times, and whilst when diagnosed early, most skin cancers can be very successfully treated, not all skin cancers will be curable, and some will spread to other areas within the body. Breaking bad news is part of my role and delivering the news of a diagnosis of cancer is often very distressing for patients. Whilst I always endeavour to do this in an open, honest and compassionate way, there is sometimes a sense of guilt that the news being given could change both the person, and sometimes their family’s hopes and plans for the future, and cause much worry and anguish for them- I’d say that part of my job is tough at times.”
8. Why is nursing such an important role?
“Often when nurses care for patients they are worried or distressed and often a listening ear, or kind word can help alleviate those feelings. Nursing is more than a task-orientated role which involves a medicine round or dressing a wound. It is often when carrying out these important tasks that nurses have the privilege of getting to know the patient as a whole person, and not just their illness or diagnosis. Also, on such occasions when patients are unable to voice their wishes or concerns regarding care or treatment planning, it is essential that nurses act as advocates, considering their needs, to ensure these are met in a holistic way.”
9. Why are you proud to be a nurse?
“I hope that through my nursing role I have made a positive difference to the patients I care for, and also their families, even when news or outcomes aren’t always good. I am also very proud of how the nursing profession has developed over the last number of years, with continuous education for nurses, and the extension of roles. Having worked through a Covid pandemic I am so proud of the manner in which nurses and nursing assistants selflessly got on with the task to be done in various healthcare settings, and cared for many sick patients, both Covid and non-Covid during the most frightening time ever encountered within healthcare.”
10. What is your proudest moment as a nurse?
“I have many proud moments; probably the most recent one was our skin cancer nursing team being nominated and winning the ‘Whatever It Takes’ category in last year’s UK wide Macmillan Awards. Managing to successfully get through non-medical prescribing and specialist practice was a big achievement too.”
11. What do you think is the most important skill a nurse should have?
“Communication is probably the most important skill as a nurse, and effective communication both the said, and unsaid. The way in which a nurse addresses patients can have such an impact on the experience for that person. I always try to be kind and treat our patients and colleagues as we would want our loved ones to be treated.”
12. What is it like being a Macmillan nurse?
“Providing care and support to people with a cancer diagnosis, and the associated investigations, waiting on results, and going through treatment can be a really difficult time for patients and their families, and to be able to help, even a little is very humbling. I also work with a great team of people, both within dermatology and cancer services, who are always on the end of the phone for support or just to run something past if needs be. I have had the privilege of meeting so many people as a Macmillan nurse, with some very sad days where emotionally I have been tested, and many happy days too, but all in all I love what I do.”