Hidden Healthcare: The cancer trials team driving growth

Friday, December 06, 2019 breast cancercancer services
Hidden Healthcare: The cancer trials team driving growth From left: Clinical trials research nurse Felicity Osmond, clinical trials research manager Narelle McPhee and clinical trials research nurse Amy Clark have helped increase clinical trials activity in the Cancer Centre by almost 200% over the past financial year.
Hidden Healthcare takes a look behind the scenes at some of the people powering regional Victoria's largest hospital.

Amy Clark stumbled across a career in clinical trials.

Looking for a change of pace from emergency nursing after having a child, Amy had a friend involved in clinical research at Maroondah hospital.

“I never planned on going into research, I literally fell into it, but loved it,” she said.

During her time working in endocrinology trials, Amy learnt how to dissect medical records to get the most out of them and build relationships with patients.

She moved to Bendigo in 2011 but found very few clinical trial employment opportunities, until a position as research trial nurse became available at Bendigo Health’s cancer services.

“I would never have imagined working in the cancer space but I love clinical research so much that I did and again, found that I loved working with these patients,” she said.

“I really do appreciate peoples’ time and commitment when they take part in research because it is in addition to their standard care.”

Going from patients with less serious diseases to life or death situations proved confronting for Amy. 

“The people that don’t see good outcomes, they’re disease doesn’t stabilise and you develop those relationships with them - I have really had a hard time managing that,” she said.

“It’s hard but the flip side of that is really rewarding when you have good outcomes.”

And there’s been numerous patients this year that have defied the odds, with several surviving diseases that were considered incurable.

Bendigo Health’s clinical trial activity in the Cancer Centre increased by almost 200% in 2018-19, with close to 80 patients now on various trials.

Amy believes having a dedicated research lead in oncologist Sam Harris combined with the commitment of the clinical trials team has helped drive growth.

Telehealth trial opportunities, the regional trials network and collaborations with Peter McCullum Cancer Centre have also bolstered the program.

“We’re changing the mindset and the culture around trials to try to ingrain it so we can work more collaboratively across the health service,” she said.

Bendigo Health’s growing reputation in the cancer trials space has had positive impacts for patients.

“In the past we didn’t have a choice (of trials) but now we’re more of an attractive (trial) site we can pick and choose a bit more what trials we need for the community. We’re now doing trials in clinical areas where there’s a high need in Bendigo. Lung, gastric, breast and prostate for example,” she said.

The public perception of clinical trials has improved participation rates, with patients considering them less of a last resort than previously, Amy suggested.

“The new treatments are better, immunotherapy is great. There’s a greater diversity of treatments,” she said.

More information on clinical trials can be found in the 2018 research report or on the Bendigo Health Cancer Centre site.

The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) is offering a clinical trial internship at Bendigo Health from February 2020, for more informaiton visit: