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Making changes for women with gynaecological cancer

Making changes for women with gynaecological cance
Photo: Making changes for women with gynaecological cancer
When Shannon Philp first began a career in nursing, she had little interest in oncology. Fast forward to now, and Ms Philp has been instrumental in some of the most important advancements for women who have experienced gynaecological cancers, resulting in her being awarded the 2021 HESTA Nurse of the Year Award.

“I thought I would have the opportunity to work in many different areas of nursing and find an area that I loved,” she says.

“Nurses make such a difference to patients and their families. Nursing also gives you the opportunity to travel.”

Ms Philp has held many different positions, ranging from Clinical Nurse Specialist to Clinical Nurse Consultant and Nurse Unit Manager, landing in her current role of Nurse Practitioner in Gynaecological Oncology.

She now combines clinical work with an academic role at the Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery at The University of Sydney, where she coordinates the postgraduate cancer and haematology nursing degrees.
“I started in gynae oncology as a new graduate, but did not have an interest in cancer when I started.

“I ended up staying in cancer, and nursing in all different areas of treatment for gynae cancer. I have worked with several different cancer tumour streams, such as breast, urology and melanoma, but my expertise and passion has remained in gynaecological cancer.

“I liked the fact that the nurses developed long lasting relationships with patients in this speciality, and saw patients return regularly for treatment, as many years ago patients would have to be admitted for treatment such as chemotherapy.

“That has now changed with advances made, and now most treatment is given as an outpatient.”

Throughout her time in that role, Ms Philp identified a need for evidence informed practice.

“I believe that is what nursing is all about,” she says.

“Rather than doing something the same way without change because that’s how it’s always been done.”

After identifying the need for specialist nurses in cancer streams, Ms Philp successfully applied for a grant, which enabled the creation of the new role of Clinical Nurse Consultant in Fast Track Surgery.

“I was able to demonstrate through research that the role and new model of care was both beneficial and acceptable to patients.

“The model of care, referred to as Fast Track surgery or ERAS, is now standard practice and has been adopted by many gynae oncology centres and other specialities.”

Ms Philp has been a member of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse since its inception, having been involved in the years long consultation and planning prior to its construction and opening day.

“By coming to Lifehouse I was hoping to work in a dedicated, specialist cancer hospital, with passionate and expert staff, who were all working together to provide the best possible care for our patients.

“I was also excited about the combination of clinical care of patients with a comprehensive research facility. Also, the fact that Lifehouse had great facilities and complementary therapies available to patients was appealing.”

During that time, Ms Philp has set up her own clinics to provide follow up care to women who have had a gynaecological cancer.

“Having Nurse Practitioner led follow up has a different focus to medical surveillance for cancer recurrence, and I can provide the necessary care with a nursing focus.

“I have also expanded my practice to include colposcopy for women with abnormalities detected on their cervical screening test, and I lead a Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Clinic, which is for women and their partners who have been diagnosed with this relatively rare condition.”

While Ms Philp has made significant progress, there remains many barriers to change.

“Lack of organisational support, lack of evidence to support the change, not engaging key stakeholders, including patients in the change from the outset, and not evaluating the impact of change. 

“A big challenge for nurses is usually not being in a position of authority/power to drive change unfortunately.”

While Ms Philp is proud of her achievements so far, she’s not done yet.

“I still have many things to achieve.

“I would like to see more Nurse Practitioners who are able to practise to their full scope with the support of the MBS, to provide accessible care to all women, especially vulnerable groups.

“I also hope to see many more positive improvements in patient care and outcomes for patients, for example changing the way care is delivered to allow for a better patient experience.

“The HESTA award motivates me to do more, and think of new ways to make a difference for my patients.

“I am thinking about the things that I still want to achieve in my career, and how I can help other nurses to reach their goals and show that nurses are highly trained and educated and can make such a difference.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.