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Liz Henderson

Liz Henderson
  • Liz Henderson, OBE, MSc, FRCN, RN
  • Macmillan Special Advisor

What attracted you into the nursing profession?

During school holidays (many years ago!), I got a job in a local hospital as a Ward Orderly, helping out with cleaning, catering, and assisting nursing staff.  The part I loved was talking to and engaging with patients, and seeing how they really appreciated this interaction. My interest in a nursing career was born.

Briefly outline any career milestones and success factors.

After training and working for a year in the Belfast City Hospital I went to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London to complete a course in oncology nursing, where I observed dynamic, forward thinking nurse leaders, who had a vision for nursing which focused on improving care and support for people with cancer. This left a real impression on me and I could see that nursing practice should continually be developed, and that nurses were in a fantastic position to really bring about improvements in services. Apart from a short while as a district staff nurse, and intensive care nursing, the remainder of my career has been in cancer nursing, as a ward sister, nurse manager, lead cancer nurse and eventually cancer nurse director with the Northern Ireland Cancer Network. That ethos of improvement which germinated in the Marsden has motivated and drove me throughout my career. Practice development as a methodology gave me a theoretical framework to draw upon in terms of leading improvements and understanding how to engage with individuals and healthcare teams to improve person centre practice. Undertaking a PG Cert in Life Long Learning (facilitation) helped build my skill set and confidence. The MSc in Advanced Nursing helped develop my critical thinking ability. After a long nursing career in cancer services, I left the health service in 2013 to work in the independent sector, in a post that was about supporting those involved in cancer service development across the UK.

Briefly outline your current job title/role and your practice area.

My current job title is Macmillan Special Adviser for System Redesign.
I am responsible for facilitating a learning community of practice from across the UK. This consists of Macmillan staff who are engaged with NHS partners in taking forward large scale system redesign programmes.  Within Northern Ireland the award winning Transforming Cancer Follow Up Programme (a partnership between HSCB, PHA, Trusts and Macmillan) was one such initiative.  I also coordinate the production of a knowledge resource manual to ensure that the practical know how from participants in relation to system change is captured, summarised and shared online to support others engaging in this type of work. I also facilitate local workshops to engage with key stakeholders in identifying what and how to improve cancer care systems. Although I have moved away from a pure nursing role, what I do is ultimately about ensuring people affected by cancer receive high quality person centred care.

What specific qualifications and experience are required for your current role?

My role requires minimum 5 years management experience within the NHS, a degree, a track record of leadership at strategic level, programme management and service improvement experience.

Why should someone think of a career in Nursing in your practice area/setting in particular?

A career in the independent sector offers an opportunity to step outside the health service and see things from a different perspective. There are significant personal learning opportunities around organisational development, and elements such as fund raising and branding that don’t normally feature within the NHS.  It is wonderful to work within a learning organisation that seeks to base whatever it does on the best available evidence, is a champion for improvements in patient care, and has a person centred ethos and value system.

What are the attributes required of nurses looking after patients/clients in your practice area/setting in particular?

The value system of charities generally and Macmillan in particular are very person centred. Nurses working for Macmillan are recruited not only for their skill sets and knowledge base, but for their personal person centred approaches and desire for excellence in patient care.

What are the enjoyable aspects of working in your practice area/setting?

Macmillan has a fantastic learning and development portfolio, and offer excellent support to all its post holders. This includes not only direct access to study days, but grants and funding opportunities. They also value their staff, are open and transparent about organisational change and take time to celebrate achievements.

What are the challenging aspects of working in your practice area/setting?

With the NMC revalidation requirements for ‘nurse’ to be in the role title,(which is not the case in many of the role)  there are concerns about being able to attract applicants in the future as Macmillan staff. It may be that it will only be those towards the end of their career who are prepared to take this step. (This obviously does not apply to Macmillan professionals such as Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialists who remain employed by the health and social care service).

What key skills have you gained in your current role?

I have gained increased facilitation skills, and deeper understanding of large scale system change and the complexities of trying to influence such change.

What are the career opportunities for nurses/midwives in your practice area/setting in particular?

People are familiar with Macmillan nurses who are employed by Trusts and funded initially and thereafter supported by Macmillan. But in addition to these there are many and varied roles employed directly by Macmillan as staff. While nursing is not an essential qualification for many of these, there is no doubt that it is a great enabler. Posts such as Macmillan Service Development Managers, Information Quality Standards posts, and Volunteer Managers require many of nurses skills sets in terms of communication, organisation and improvement.

What should someone do if they are interested in pursuing a career in your practice area/setting in particular?

If anyone is interested in pursuing a career they could phone the local Macmillan office and come and discuss this with colleagues here. They could also keep a look out for the types of posts that are advertised. Macmillan nursing professionals are advertised in the Belfast Telegraph, whereas Macmillan staff posts are advertised on line http://www.macmillan.org.uk/

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