Clinical Research Nurse - Ruth Irwin

I trained as a nurse what seems like a ‘million years ago’ in the Royal Victoria Hospital during the ‘Troubles’ when Belfast was a different place to what it is today.  As part of my training I had a very interesting and fulfilling placement in the haematology ward, an experience that has always stayed with me.  I moved to Craigavon hospital and then put my career on hold to raise my family.  A change in circumstances provided me with an opportunity to return to Nursing via a ‘Return to Nursing’ course and following a short spell as an auxiliary nurse in the Haematology ward in Craigavon I went back on the NMC register and I got a fulltime job as a nurse on that ward.  Not having any formal qualifications in this new world of nursing I studied part time at Queens University, Belfast and was awarded a Diploma in Health Sciences which included chemotherapy and haematology modules, this further increased my interest in haematology.  After nine years on the ward I continued my Haematology career, this time in Cancer Outpatients and complimented my work by completing a Degree in Specialised Practice Oncology Nursing.  Over the years I have attended HAI conferences and many drug sponsored study events focussing on new drugs and their effects on patients.  I then applied for and got my present job as a haematology Clinical Research Nurse in the Northern Ireland Cancer Trials Network.

As a Research Nurse it is my responsibility to provide suitable patients with the opportunity to enter a clinical trial and ensure that all the Trial procedures are carried out in accordance with the relevant regulations.  Educating patients and staff about lymphoma and all the trials available is something I really enjoy.

Every day is different when you are a Research Nurse and I love that about this job.  I can be organising treatment in the clinic, talking to patients about a clinical trial or preparing samples for posting.  The variety is truly amazing! Patients give so freely of their time to add to the body of knowledge of their disease, its treatment and outcomes, knowing that it may benefit patients both in the present and future.  I have been in haematology long enough to witness drugs that started out in early phase stage become the Standard of Care.  I find this incredible and it gives so much hope to future patients.

The best part of my job is spending time with the patients.  Their courage, fortitude, resilience and surprisingly their sense of humour in the face of malignant illness is incredible.  I feel very humbled to be part or their cancer journey and have learned a lot about myself from these amazing people.  Opening a new trial is always exciting. To know that it is another step forward in the treatment of blood cancer gives me great job satisfaction.

A downside….The paperwork is something I don’t relish!  It’s a necessary evil… but I work with a great team of clinical Trials Practitioners and Data Managers, who set up the studies, complete the data, decipher consultant’s handwriting and deal with queries from Sponsors which makes my job easier. We, in the NICTN, are a ‘multi skilled’ team who work together with the joint vision to strive for better outcomes for patients.  For me personally, coming to the end of my career, spending time in the Research world where the benefit to patients will be after my retirement is very special.

It’s a long time from that placement in the RVH but I am so delighted to be finishing my career in Clinical Trials helping Haematology patients who will still be coming through the doors long after I have retired.