EONS Lifetime Achievement Award – former EONS President Birgitte Grube
In this interview, Birgitte urges cancer nurses to get involved in order to make change happen and looks forward to a future where our work is fully recognised.
Birgitte was an EONS Board Member for six years and our President from 2011-13. She currently works at the Danish National Centre for Grief and was previously head of education for advanced cancer nurses in Copenhagen and chief consultant at the Danish Nursing Council. Birgitte has also been a Board Member of the International Society for Nurses in Cancer Care. Accepting her award from EONS President-Elect Andreas Charalambous, Birgitte said: “Being an EONS Board member or President for EONS are an experience for life – you make friends forever. I can say with honesty; I would do it all again without hesitation!”
EONS Magazine Editor Helen Oswald spoke to her about her life in cancer nursing.
What does receiving the EONS Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you, Birgitte?
It means the world to me – I am overwhelmed and so happy! Over the years, I have followed, and also handed, the award to the winners, and always with a sense of, ‘Wow! Here is a person who has done something so important for cancer nurses!’ And now, I am in that club. I’m so, so proud and thankful!
How did you develop your career and become a cancer nursing leader?
I lost my dad to cancer when I was four and lived with my mum, grandmother and grandfather all my childhood. So my granddad became my father – and then I lost him when I was 16, also to cancer. So at that point I decided to become a nurse, a cancer nurse. Very early in my career I got into education and the politics around a specialised cancer education for nurses. As President of the Danish Cancer Nursing Society, I worked for a national education in Denmark, which became a reality in 2008. A part of this work was about recognising cancer nursing as a specialty and it involved European perspectives, such as that of the EU, and collaboration with the physicians. That meant working with EONS, and the Education Working Group, and being part of the Board as President-Elect at that time.
I have always jumped into new things, new challenges and lived by the rule that, if you want to change stuff, you need to be involved! So, being President of EONS was the most important position for me, when looking at the possibility of making a difference. Together with the board, the staff, the advisory council and of course the members, we have achieved many important things for cancer nurses and nursing!
Who/what was most helpful to you on this journey?
That’s very difficult to answer, as many people and circumstances have been helpful. Foremost I would say the cancer patients: when I, as cancer nurse, responsible for the cancer nursing education programme, realised that fighting for a specialised national education would have a major impact on the cancer patient. This made my work meaningful. Then, I would say the Danish Cancer Nursing Society – being on the Board from 2003-2009, and their encouragement to run for President- Elect of EONS – and also the EONS Advisory Council at that time. And of course, the EONS Board: their belief in me, the good collaboration, the hard work and some good laughs! I would also mention the Danish Nursing Society again for always supporting me, while being President and the need for time off to do this work.
What did you enjoy most about being EONS President – and what did you learn?
I enjoyed working together with so many committed cancer nurses from all over Europe, and the world. I enjoyed making things happen, speaking up for cancer nurses in different countries, helping cancer nurses be more visible in their struggle for recognition. I enjoyed being part of the EONS Board – the EONS family, as we call it. I feel I have friends all over Europe. And, as I said in my acceptance speech, I would do it all over again, and I would love to have it as my day job! I definitely learned about leadership, and how challenging it can be working within different cultures who have different ways of communicating: the Scandinavian people are sometimes rather direct and this can be misunderstood by colleagues from other countries who are very polite! But, as we are all working towards common goals we can usually overcome this and remain good friends.
Do you do anything differently now after this experience?
No, I would not do anything differently, though maybe I would try to be a little more relaxed, as I sometimes tried to solve too many issues at the same time; I also now have a greater understanding of the importance of prioritising.
How has cancer nursing changed over the length of your career?
I think we cancer nurses are much more visible now. I think we have more opportunities to get our voice heard and also make changes. I think that politicians, both national and international, are beginning to see what a difference it makes for cancer patients if cancer nurses are recognised, and well educated.
What advice would you give to a young cancer nurse starting out now?
Get involved! There are so many platforms to help you do this: It can be in your team, at your ward, at your hospital, building up a cancer nursing society, or joining the existing one; start as a member, then become a member of some working group, then maybe jump to the board, or get into politics – we do need nurses in local, national and international politics.Just go for it! You can be sure that other nurses think the same as you, and together you can make it happen, or make a difference. But it all comes down to doing it – so, as the slogan goes, ‘Just do it!’
When I think back, I never would have thought I would be where I am today – I remember looking at these very important presidents and board members – but what I realise they, and now I can say, is that we are just like anyone else. The only difference is putting yourself forward, and making yourself visible, but always talking on behalf of others, and working for all!
What is your dream for the future of cancer nursing?
My dream is that cancer nursing will be recognised as a specialty at European level, and that there will be a guideline for all European countries to develop a cancer nursing education for all nurses working with cancer patients and their relatives. It should be obligatory for all.