With her father as inspiration, Amanda’s nursing career took an interesting turn. She is now dedicated to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of skin cancer …
Please tell us a little bit about yourself …
I have lived in Port Macquarie for the past 8 years. I am married, with 5 children and 8 grandchildren. I was born in Walcha and moved to Orange at the age of 3, where I lived with my parents, sister and brother.
After a horse riding accident left my sister a quadriplegic and spending months with her at the spinal unit in Sydney, observing the compassionate caring nursing staff working tirelessly day after day, it became clear to me that I would take up nursing. I wanted to be like them; I wanted to care for people and help save lives. And so, my nursing career began. I trained as an Enrolled Nurse at Orange Base Hospital and Dubbo TAFE.
I have worked in the public health system at Orange, Katoomba, Springwood and Port Macquarie, and I’ve worked at the Blood Bank in Orange for the Australian Red Cross Blood service. I am currently working at the ‘Hastings Skin Cancer Clinic’ at the Hermitage Medical Center.
What studies have you undertaken – including the Diploma you completed recently?
I have recently successfully completed the Australian Diploma of Dermoscopy 2011 through the Skin Cancer College of Australia and New Zealand (SCCANZ).
With this specialised training, Dermoscopy is used to help with diagnosing skin cancers, looking at the specific patterns, colours and blood vessels within skin lesions which can be malignant or benign. Prior to this Diploma, I have successfully completed the Medication Administration for Enrolled Nurses through the Hunter institute of TAFE, a course in Wound Closure and Suturing through the Benchmarque Group, The ‘Certificate in Primary Care Skin Cancer Medicine’ through the Queensland University and Healthcert and have attended the 2010 and 2011 Skin Cancer College of Australia and New Zealand skin cancer conferences held in Queensland.
What inspired you to study for this Diploma?
My father has been my inspiration. He has struggled with skin cancers (mainly Squamous Cell Carcinomas) for many years, undergone numerous operations and radiation therapy at the head and neck clinic at Westmead Hospital, has lost his eye to a Squamous Cell skin cancer, had chemotherapy, and now is a palliative care patient, as there is nothing more that can be done.
It made me realise how important it is to diagnose and treat skin cancers at an early stage. If I can spot a skin cancer and prevent just one person from going through what my father has endured, all my studies will have been worthwhile.
How did you feel when you received your new qualification?
Over the moon! I am only the second nurse in the world to have completed this particular Diploma; all the other students have been doctors.
My husband (who is a builder) said he would have to widen the doorways so my head would fit through! I could not have achieved this Diploma without all of his encouragement and support and my children’s understanding as to why the dinner was always late & the washing was piling up. It is a very involved course, requiring daily input through blog spots of different skin lesions, teleconferences with the tutor and fellow students and having to learn digital photography to take dermatoscopic photos of skin lesions, and of course, the dreaded exams. I must admit, there were times I felt like giving up!
How will your recent studies help you with your career?
Dermoscopy is a skill that is learnt by undertaking training such as this Diploma. They say, “The eye cannot see what the mind does not know”.
I have received some very positive and encouraging support from some of the doctors from the Skin Cancer College of Australia and New Zealand, with comments such as:
“I am fully in support of nurses taking on a lead role in Dermoscopy. There is absolutely no reason why a nurse can’t specialise in this field and become a very effective member of a team. In fact, with the doctor shortages, it is an open niche that nurses can fill and perform just as effectively as a doctor. What matters more is the education and expertise, rather than ‘who’ the practitioner is”.
So hopefully in the very near future we may see qualified nurses performing skin checks!
What are some facts about skin cancer that may surprise some people?
Today’s focus appears more directed towards Melanomas, which are the most dangerous, but the least common. However, not enough emphasis is on other forms of skin cancers, such as Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which is capable of metastasizing and can be as dangerous as a Melanoma if not diagnosed and treated early enough. More than 1,800 people per year will die from some form of skin cancer.
Are there any common skin cancer myths you’ve come across in the course of your career – and what are they?
I think the most common skin cancer myth I have come across is that a majority of people still believe that Melanomas can only be found on sun exposed parts of the body. In fact, Melanomas can be found in unexposed areas such as toenails, inside the mouth and even internally.
What is the best piece of advice you could give people about skin cancer – whether it’s advice about prevention or treatment?
See your doctor for a full skin check! That little pink spot that you thought was nothing to worry about, could in fact be a little more sinister – maybe an Amelanotic Melanoma (as not all Melanomas are dark mole-like lesions), or maybe it could be another form of skin cancer. Take 15 minutes out of your day for peace of mind; if diagnosed and treated early enough, it could save your life!
Where to from here for you? What other goals (personally or professionally) would you like to achieve?
I am dedicated to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of skin cancer. Dermoscopy is reasonably new, having only been around for about 20 years. There is still so much to learn! So for me … I will be attending the ‘World Congress of Dermoscopy’ in Brisbane in 2012 and have enrolled in the Advanced Certificate of Dermoscopy and Dermal Imaging through the University of Queensland and Healthcert in 2012.
So where to from here … maybe a holiday in 2013!
Interview by Jo Atkins.