Most of us hate that classic job-interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” but when Dr Rebecca Verity was asked the very same during an interview for the role of a professional development nurse at The Royal Marsden, she didn’t hesitate. She says, ‘I told Sara Lister, who was then Head of the School, that I wanted to be sitting in her chair! It was very cheeky, but I did get the job. OK, it took a little longer than five years but I do feel I’m now where I should be.’
Rebecca was working in the Bud Flanagan unit when she was encouraged to study for a masters. ‘I’ve always felt that nurses needed more support than they are getting,’ she says. ‘So for my MSc, I looked at the experience of nurses working with chemotherapy. Our research results came back that nurses did want more education and support, as it is quite a scary role.’ She then moved to King’s College London as a lecturer in cancer and palliative care, where she continued to develop cancer education programmes. ‘Some of those, like setting up the chemotherapy module had an impact in the UK and across Europe,’ Rebecca says proudly.
She stayed at King’s College London until 2017 – moving into a senior lecturer role while also studying for her PhD in cancer and supportive care nursing – and in 2018 she moved to the Isle of Wight as head of education and research at Mountbatten Hospice, and also took up a position as visiting fellow at the University of Southampton. Rebecca says, ‘My main areas of research have always focused on the educational and support needs of health professionals. I love teaching programmes based on enabling people to overcome difficulties within their role. I also love helping to develop teachers, and that’s a big part of my role here at the School.’
There is something special about The Royal Marsden; I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse and I knew that I wanted to work here
Many lecturers, practitioners and staff at the School have a special connection to The Royal Marsden, and Rebecca is no different. ‘My mum was treated here when I was 14,’ she says. ‘When I used to walk into the building, I thought it smelled lovely and the staff were all so wonderful. There is something special about The Royal Marsden; I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse and I knew that I wanted to work here. Although I left in 2003, I always hoped that day one I would come back, so becoming Director of the School does feel a bit like I’ve come home.’
Rebecca’s ‘sixth sense’ that The Royal Marsden is somehow different also extends to the School. She says, ‘It’s unique in that those who teach here also practice here at the hospital – they’re right at the forefront of cancer medicine, which gives students an incredible opportunity to learn from them.’ In fact, Rebecca believes the School has an unrivalled place in the history of cancer care. She says, ‘When you look at some of our alumni, such as Robert (Bob) Tiffany, Professor Dame Jessica Corner or Professor Alison Richardson – who wrote the NICE guidelines on supportive and palliative care – I genuinely feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants! The School is such an incredible platform for us to help develop and push cancer practice forward.’
So, what are her plans, as the new Director, to help the School achieve those goals? ‘It’s still early days, but there have already been a few changes,’ she reveals. ‘We’ve got a new team of lecturer-practitioners and I’m helping them make wider connections within The Royal Marsden Foundation Trust.’ This is one of Rebecca’s key objectives: to further integrate the School and the Trust. She says, ‘We already work so closely together, but I’m looking forward to building on that success to help us achieve even more as a team.’
And what about that final, crucial question – where does she see herself in five years’ time? ‘There’s so much I want to do – one of my aims is to carry out research into what we do really well and what we find more difficult. I want to focus on how to make things easier for other people – that includes nurses, staff and patients,’ she says. ‘In another five years, I hope I’m still sitting in this chair. The role of Director for The School is everything I hoped it would be, and more. Why would I want to go anywhere else?!’