A CORK frontline worker is set to go down in medical history after becoming Ireland’s first registered advanced nurse practitioner in head and neck oncology.
After speaking to those working in the role abroad, Deirdre Callanan, who is based at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH), balanced work with intense study at UCC to make her dream a reality. The SIVUH supported Ms Callanan in her goal as part of an initiative to develop advanced nursing practitioner roles within the ENT and head and neck services.
The nurse practitioner said she was motivated to pursue this career path to reduce waiting times for head and neck oncology patients.
Ms Callanan, who spoke to The Echo as part of a series celebrating inspirational frontline workers at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, revealed why securing the role was so important to her.
“The patient is at the fore of everything you can think of,” she said.
“From following patients through that trajectory of care I got to see the little gap where nursing could excel and where we could help out to improve the patient service. For patients with head and neck cancer, this is a disease that really affects their quality of life. It’s a very visual cancer that’s obvious to people and affects eating, drinking, breathing and speech. People are living longer now with improvements in cancer research and improvements in surgery and treatment. We are the regional centre so we get a huge volume of referrals for head and neck cancer patients,” she explained.
Ms Callanan said her aim was to take some of the return patients out of consultant-led clinics which would allow consultants to see more complex cases and more new patients and in turn, reduce the waiting list.
She listed the benefits of the new service for head and neck oncology patients.
“I have two clinics a week where I am seeing a lot of return patients. When they come in I can give them a little bit of time to express their anxieties. I have a strong focus on self-examination with patients in that I teach them what to look out for including all the red flags and symptoms. It puts the onus back on the patients and gives them that little bit of time.”
Ms Callanan described her role in the department.
“I do full examinations and use a fiberoptic scope if they have any little legions or swelling in the neck. I take biopsies in the clinic, prescribe medication and request scans in order to manage the whole case of that patient.
“It makes everything quite efficient and is seamless for the patient as well. It’s great to see patients taking back a bit of ownership of their disease and understand it a little bit better. They also have an improved understanding of the delayed side effects of treatment. Once the advanced nurse practitioner examines them they can walk out that door thinking that everything is okay, that’s the biggest reward for me. I love the clinical side of it and being able to examine a patient to a level where they are comfortable.”
She praised the South Infirmary Victoria Hospital for helping her get to where she is today.
“For someone like Professor Patrick Sheehan (consultant otolaryngologist (head, neck & thyroid surgeon)) to have that faith in you and let you pursue this is a great feeling. The supports were incredible. I couldn’t have gone to college and done this without it. Head and neck is such a small specialty and it’s great to see this set up here.”
The South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital also welcomed a new registered advanced nurse practitioner in the area of General ENT. Carmel Connolly is just one of two people to be appointed to the role in Ireland in recent years.