The Royal Marsden

‘I wanted to be an acute cancer nurse before it even existed’

Alison Hodge, advanced nurse practitioner in acute oncology at The Royal Marsden, shares her experience of the Advanced Practice programme and how it’s helped shape her career

‘I always wanted to be a nurse, and I particularly loved acute medicine and oncology. After I finished my training at the University of Brighton, I went straight into oncology at The Royal Free in London, which was almost unheard of at the time. I did a head and neck specialist course when I was there – I love a course; offer me some training and I’ll do it! Today, I also have an MSc and a PGCE.

After working for St Luke’s Cancer Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital for seven years, I started at The Royal Marsden in 2007 as a lecturer practitioner. I really enjoyed the mix of teaching and working clinically. Although I already had an MSc in Advanced Practice, I wanted to move my career forward so I took the modules that enabled me to complete the post-graduate diploma. As I was running some of the modules with a colleague, I was in the unique position of being both student and teacher at the same time.

On the Advanced Practice programmes, you are training alongside other healthcare professionals, taking in their skills and knowledge to improve your nursing skills. When you take those skills into practice, you can increase the holistic approach to caring for your patients, following them through their journey. Now, I have the ability to use a different structure in the way I assess a patient that allows me to combine my nursing knowledge with skills that are traditionally thought of as ‘medical’.

I think the connections in your brain work in a different way once you’ve done the programme – you’re challenged and pushed to ask why a patient might be experiencing something. You don’t just accept the fact you might know, but ask yourself why you know. What is it in your experience that is drawing you to that conclusion? Advanced Practice is about taking all your years of experience behind that nursing knowledge and helping you break it down to find the right answers.

I started working as an advanced nurse practitioner in acute oncology in 2015 and I realised that this is job I’d always wanted, before it even existed. Without knowing it, I had been pushing my career in this direction the whole time. I already knew I had the ability to do it, but Advanced Practice gave me the skills and confidence to pursue it. And I absolutely love my job. You do have some really sad days, but even then you know you’ve helped make a big difference to somebody’s life.’