Working in cancer care can be emotionally tough but also involve a lot of joy and workplace camaraderie, says oncology nurse Shayne. While studying, he found putting theory into practice was a vital way to prepare for workplace challenges and a career that involves lifelong learning.

My name is Shayne and I studied a Master of Nursing Science and also a Master of Clinical Nursing, specialising in oncology.

I got into nursing out of curiosity more than anything. I had worked previously in Chinese medicine, and I felt nursing could be a way to help people more in a controlled environment. So, I went to the University of Melbourne to complete my masters, and just to dive right into the world of nursing.

I love being a nurse. I love the camaraderie – we come in as a team, and we leave as a team. I also love having the privilege of being able to witness a patient’s recovery journey. I love witnessing the progression in the lives of patients from start to finish – from the moment they come in, to seeing them make a recovery.

I chose to specialise in cancer care because I was interested in learning about the pathophysiology of cancer, and tumors themselves. It’s a very interesting area of nursing.

For nurses, we are subjected to a lot of environmental changes, and often deal with many, many patients at once. One particular patient recently really touched me – they came into our ward, requiring urgent treatment. I spent basically my whole shift working with them one on one, giving them the treatment and care they needed, but also educating them on what was going on. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but the patient made the smallest gesture of offering me a bit of their food, and it was really touching. It was just a moment where I felt like they had acknowledged my efforts and were grateful for everything I’d done, which touched me a lot.

I love being a nurse. I love the camaraderie – we come in as a team, and we leave as a team.

As a cancer care nurse, my proudest moments are those when we see patients complete their treatments and leave us, cancer-free. That’s the most important thing to me. When they are able to leave with a better quality of life, that’s everything.

Studying with the University of Melbourne has been a great experience. It’s been very eye-opening, and really gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizons. The robust nature of the course helped me to prepare myself for working as a nurse. Both in class and online, you’re in a supportive environment, and there’s a huge source of educational tools available. The teachers and lecturers were always readily available, always there to help. Even when studying online, teachers were prompt to reply and always there with the answers you need.

During the course, we got a lot of practical training. We were based at a lot of major hospitals, but also had the opportunity to head out to rural hospitals to get experience there as well. Experiences in the field were quite eye-opening for me. We were putting theory into practice, getting a wide scope of practice, and I really realised how when you are on the job in nursing, you’re always learning new things and picking up new tricks along the way.

I’d highly recommend the courses I studied at the University of Melbourne to anyone wanting to pursue specialist nursing. The quality of teaching is fantastic, and the University has links with all the major hospitals, which really opens doors. Having that exposure and experience has been really valuable to my career. During the course, the lecturers were almost all nurses themselves, so they were able to share and reference their own experiences and lessons they’d learned on the job, which felt really valuable.

Cancer care nursing is the best job in the world, as we have the real privilege of being a part of a patient’s life and journey.

For new nurses looking to move into cancer care, I would encourage you to keep an open mind and understand that we’re always learning. Even when you get to nursing educator level, as I am at now, you will still be learning new things all the time. Cancer care is not always heartache and heartbreak. It can be a fun atmosphere and work environment, and we have some truly great experiences with our patients. That’s what I love most about cancer care nursing: being able to witness a patient’s journey and having the privilege of seeing them go through treatment from start to finish.

Certain patients and their stories will really stay with you. For me, the patients that touch me most often tend to be the younger patients. Seeing young people, young children, come in at the start of their journey, and knowing all that they may go through, can be very hard, and really effect you. The memory of one particular patient I cared for recently really stays with me. She had lost all her hair, had lost a lot of weight, and wasn’t in a good place – yet still had such a positive outlook on life. I think that really touched me, seeing such resilience that this little human being had, in spite of her surroundings and what she was going through. It was very inspiring.

Cancer care nursing is the best job in the world, as we have the real privilege of being a part of a patient’s life and journey. I love working in an environment that is so welcoming, and supportive – both to nurses, and to our patients. For my patients, I love seeing their treatment course from start to finish, following their progression and improvement, and being able to help give people a second chance at life.

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