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Cancer Nursing in Australia – Cancer Nurses Society of Australia 16th Winter Congress


My Health Career is very pleased to Sandy McKiernan is currently the Cancer Nurses Society of Australia (CNSA) President and the Director Cancer Information & Support Services Cancer Council WA. Sandy has been a Cancer Nurse since 1992 working in both the public health sector and not for profit organisations and completed a Masters of Public Health in 2004. Her current role oversees the strategic direction of psychosocial services provided by Cancer Council WA to people affected by cancer in Western Australia.

“It’s hard not to notice but health care in Australia is changing rapidly and Cancer Care is no exception. The impact upon our current and future workforce is undeniable and as a profession Cancer Nurses need to lead the change we want to see.  This year’s Cancer Nurses Society of Australia (CNSA) Winter Congress, held in Brisbane, brought international and national Cancer Nursing leaders together with a theme of Connecting Cancer Care.

After three years on the National Executive Committee of CNSA – this year (and next) I am President. Although all committee members are volunteer roles, the professionalism, experience and passion within is the driving force of the society. Becoming President was a choice – I self-nominated, thinking I knew what I was in for – and mostly I did, but the overwhelming sense of pride in our society and its achievements is one that blindsided me a little – oh and the crazy haze fueled weeks of pre congress management, and did I mention I was signed up for Dry July!

Being President (or El Presidente as some of my local colleagues have named me) involves being present, being prepared and being committed. It is growing relationships, encouraging partnerships and fostering a lot of good will. Like most NFP Member based organisations – our financial sustainability and future growth depends upon it. But most of all its having fun, learning about yourself and your leadership skills and putting it to work for the good of the society and for the profession of cancer nursing.

I have always loved being a nurse – but fell into it rather than it being a childhood dream or family tradition. I was (and still am) the only child to attend university in my family of 5 children, my Dad’s shining light in the education system. Don’t get me wrong – my siblings are all very accomplished, but none of them took the path of higher education. Cancer Nursing has always felt right – though I am far from hanging a bag of chemotherapy these days, the memory is still very real. With the incidence of cancer in Australia tipped to reach staggering proportions in the next ten years and beyond, keeping an active and grounded cancer nursing workforce is more than necessary – it is essential.

The CNSA Winter Congress is the national education event that brings members, delegates, speakers and cancer nursing leaders together on an equal plain. This year’s congress had a buzz that was palpable. As the first as an independent society (separation from the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia after 15 years was finalized only in March this year) there was a feeling of excitement, of new beginnings and of self-determination.  The society is run by Cancer Nurses FOR Cancer Nurses – be they a novice, an advanced practice nurse, care coordinator or Nurse Practitioner – and everyone in between. This year’s congress offered something for everyone – with more than 530 delegates from across Australia and New Zealand, four plenary sessions, more than 80 concurrent sessions, 30 poster presentations,  full day pre congress workshops, breakfast sessions and gala social events.

The opening plenary was a personal highlight and set the scene for two thought provoking days for many attending their first CNSA Winter Congress. Addressing the wider context of Nursing in Australia, Queensland Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Dr Francis Hughes provided the opening address and shared a very personal connection with Cancer Nursing and her son’s childhood leukaemia. Dr Hughes reminded us that as a profession Nurses needed to lead by example and make evidence based care a priority for every individual and not to lose the caring in this fast paced technological age.

Professor Brenda Nevidjon – President Elect of the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care (ISNCC) encouraged all nurses to be leaders, from the bedside to the boardroom! Individually our circle of influence starts with our patients and their families, but with experience, knowledge and opportunity our influence grows and can determine practice change, policy implementation and innovation. It is important to remember that all leaders in Cancer Nursing were once novice practitioners and new graduates and that fostering a positive circle of influence is beneficial to both patient care and the sustainability of our profession.

Associate Professor Jane Turner gave light into the emotional dimensions of Cancer Nursing and that using humour can be useful to a point – but it can be a fine line – between demoralization, depression and burn out. Group debriefing, professional clinical supervision and encouraging sharing of difficult incidents should be common place on the cancer ward. Sadly this is often not the case as our stretched health systems do not always see this as essential part of workforce sustainability.

CNSA Winter Congress provides opportunity for Cancer Nurses to shine, grow and be inspired. As CNSA President it reminded me of my passion for CNSA – to be inspired and be inspiring, to seek our future leaders in the membership, to empower all nurses to be leaders, to see and hear members connecting with each other and above all encouraging knowledge and passion to provide evidence based, best practice cancer nursing care.

CNSA is committed to achieving and promoting excellence in cancer care through the professional contribution of nurses through education, information, leadership, networking and professionalism. For more information about CNSA or Winter Congress 2014 please visit

Highlights of the conference will be available in the members section of the website in coming weeks.”

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