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Five minutes with Ann Carrigy, Clinical Nurse Consultant11 May 2018

Five minutes with Ann Carrigy, Clinical Nurse Consultant

What does it mean to be a Medical Oncology Breast Clinical Nurse Consultant?

It's a registered nurse who applies advanced knowledge of the health needs, preferences, and circumstances of women with breast cancer to optimise the individual’s health and wellbeing in various phases across the continuum of care – including diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, follow up and palliative care.

What does that entail?

As patients come in to see the medical oncologists, particularly new patients, I give them my contact details and I do some education with them and reassure them that it's not going to be as bad as they think it's going to be. On a day-to-day basis I problem-solve with whatever comes up so I have a lot of phone calls from people who are running into a bit of trouble at home, perhaps with their chemo therapy or just generally. I'm basically the first contact for a lot of those patients, and then I liaise with the medical oncologists. Last year I had 953 patients booked into my clinics, I had 412 new patients, and I served 1619 phone calls. I made 126 ward visits with 4221 patients having chemo treatment. I haven't finished my stats but I had over 400 patients a month that came through the clinic to see our medical oncologists. So it’s a big patient load.

How would you describe your co-workers?

The breast oncology team is just amazing and it’s just an incredible privilege to work with such intelligent and dedicated women. With Professor Jane Beith and Professor Catriona McNeil, it’s just amazing and all the advanced trainees coming through over the years have just been so clever. They’re a fantastic team.

What advice would you give a new colleague?

This is an emotionally quite expensive role, so family is so important - I’ve got a really supportive husband and that makes such a difference because without that stability, I’d probably find it really hard to keep going in this role. At work, we all support each other - if there’s any conflicts in the team it makes it much, much harder to support the patients at a really emotional time for them. You have to be really together to do it, and be confident in your ability. The other big thing is to be accepting of everybody, of their sexual preferences and their religious and cultural beliefs - accept each person as they are.

Is there a particular patient that has had an impact on you?

Yeah I've had a couple of interesting patients and it’s been around pregnancy. so that's been, I've had 3 patients that spring to mind. I mean one patient had to terminate her pregnancy before her surgery, a very early pregnancy, before her surgery when she first found out she had breast cancer. and another patient, who got pregnant on treatment, just a slip up, she and her husband hadn't taken care of the warnings about using proper contraceptive and she became pregnant and it was actually her fourth child and she was 20 weeks pregnant before she realised and that pregnancy had to be terminated because of the probable side effects of the drug that she was on. some patients can be pregnant and have chemo therapy but only if it’s after the first trimester and then we can give chemo quite safely to pregnant women. but this woman had got pregnant on treatment and was having radiotherapy so that pregnancy had to be terminated, with a lot of counselling and support. and the third patient was pregnant, she'd had her surgery and discovered that she was pregnant and she was about 20 weeks pregnant when she came to medical oncology. which seriously is quite safe to give chemo therapy to a pregnant woman but they obviously had a lot of time to consider what to do about the pregnancy and her husband was quite keen for her to terminate the pregnancy because, we later discovered why, he thought we would not give her full chemo therapy while she was, and he just wanted to protect her. but after much counselling from the psychiatrist here at Lifehouse and the Mothers and Babies psychiatrist at RPA, they decided to continue with the pregnancy. now they've got a beautiful little boy who’s about 18 months and he's absolutely perfect and they're so happy. so I think just three different instances that of the kind of decisions that people have to make as women. and as young women. so I mean there’s a lot of people who've touched me but that's a different story I suppose. 

What was your path to this role?

When I was in my last years of school I was thinking about what courses I was going to do and I was thinking of doing laboratory medical science and I went to the hospital and saw the nurses running around and thought 'that's what I want to do.’ I did my training at St Andrews Hospital in Adelaide and that was 4 years and I became a registered nurse. Then I worked for 12 months at the Royal Adelaide Hospital doing a ward management course. I worked for 3 years in London and my last job there was as research assistant to Dame Professor Jenifer Wilson Barnett, who got the first PHD in nursing at London University. And that was on the emotional effects of hospitalisation on medical ward patients, it was a longitudinal study. When I came back to Sydney, I got a job at RPA as a student nurse councillor. I worked in the RPA respiratory ward and in Day Therapy and from there a job came up as a Medical Oncology Breast Care Nurse and I applied for it and I've been doing that ever since.