Liz McKervey is one of 14 new specialist prostate cancer nurses funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA). With specialist knowledge and training, the nurses oversee every aspect of patient care, from diagnosis through to treatment and wellness. The practice has been proven to improve outcomes, and for Liz the role is essential.
“Being a specialist allows me to gather a wide base of knowledge, whether it’s from reading, from study, from my allied health and specialist colleagues, or from patients,” Liz says. She is able to apply that knowledge to making the patient feel as secure as possible. “If we can reduce a patient’s distress level, we know that they will heal faster and they will get better quicker.”
From her office on the fifth floor, Liz works with a multidisciplinary team of urologists, medical and radiation oncologists, endocrinologists, continence nurses and physiotherapists to coordinate every aspect of the patient’s care. From answering emails at 7am, to consulting with the care team and researching the latest clinical trials, her day is varied and busy.
“I am here 5 days a week, full time, which means I can provide a support system,” she says. For Liz, whose own father was diagnosed with cancer, the importance of a support network can’t be understated. “My dad was terminal when he was diagnosed, so I have a little bit of understanding of the distress and the feeling of not knowing. If I can relieve that even in the smallest way for someone or for their family, I think that’s great.”
Liz has a background in urology, working for over 10 years at Nepean Private Hospital in the Blue Mountains. When she started nursing, however, urology was the last place she thought she’d end up.
“It was boring!” Liz says. “The doctors used to do cystoscopies with a telescope, and they would put it to their eye. They would eyeball what they were doing, literally, and the rest of the team could not see a thing.” Asked to step in as a scrub sister for a urology surgeon one day, Liz found that the old technology had been replaced by a camera system that allowed everyone in the room to watch. “This entire new world opened up. It’s a fascinating part of the body that is so vital to us, and it became my absolute love - all because this fellow needed a scrub sister.”
In her work, Liz began to notice that there was a need for care that wasn’t being fulfilled. In particular, men weren’t receiving adequate support for erectile dysfunction post treatment. She decided to learn more, and enrolled in a Masters in HIV, STIs and Sexual Health at the University of Sydney. From there, Liz worked with a pharmaceutical company on a national prostate cancer education program for nurses. Before long, however, she missed working with patients, and when the prostate cancer nurse position arose, Liz decided to apply.
“I’ve fallen into this amazing place. It’s like I was heading towards my dream job without actually knowing it. I’m just suddenly here and I feel so lucky. I can’t wait to get going,” she says.
When she’s not settling in to her new role, Liz is busy fighting fires with the NSW Rural Fire Service, where she’s been volunteering since she was 21. She’s just obtained her heavy rigid drivers licence, and is currently finishing off her training to be able to drive the truck. “So I sort of keep a bit busy,” she says. “It keeps me out of trouble!”