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Susan

Susan PALMER

Year of Award: 2007 Award State: Victoria Health And Medicine > Cancer And Oncology
The Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship to improve age-specific care for adolescent and young adult cancer patients - U.K., USA
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A Churchill Fellowship gives recipients the rewarding opportunity to change lives for the better. Dr Susan Palmer’s Fellowship on the needs of adolescents and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer enabled her to directly influence state policy in this area.

Adolescents and young adults have very different educational and emotional needs from the older patients with whom they are often grouped. When Susan Palmer was awarded her Fellowship, in 2007, the oncology team that she was a member of was the only adolescent and young adult multi-disciplinary team in Australia.

The world’s leading teams in this area were based in the United Kingdom and the United States so Susan travelled to these places to learn from the best. ‘The Churchill Fellowship enabled me to meet international leaders in the field and to bring that knowledge I had gained back to Australia to support our continual growth and improvement,’ Susan writes in her report. ‘Contacts and friendships I made while travelling have endured enabling the sharing of ideas to continue long after the Churchill Fellowship ended.’

The timing of her Fellowship was perfect because, serendipitously, when she returned, federal and state governments gave $15 million to improve oncology care for this vulnerable adolescent and young adult group. Susan was asked to share the lessons she had learned on her Fellowship with the newly appointed psychologists and young adult teams across Australia. She was then commissioned to coordinate the development of Australia’s first adolescent and young adult oncology psychosocial screening and assessment tool and its first psychosocial clinical guidelines for the same group. ‘All of these projects,’ said Susan, ‘now a vital part of practice today, were informed by the knowledge and contacts gained during my Fellowship.’

Susan knew that people in crisis were finding it difficult to manage on their own and wanted to do something to help. She founded the online platform GatherMyCrew, launched in June 2017, which links people in crisis to their own network of friends and family to receive the practical support they need to get through tough times. This means that parents of an adolescent with cancer can now easily coordinate help to collect other children from school, arrange a meal roster or have someone come by to mow the lawn.

Susan also found, like many Churchill Fellows, that gaining knowledge and new techniques can be a two-way street: ‘Spending time with overseas peers doing amazing work lifts your game,’ she writes. ‘We were already doing fabulous work in Australia but we got new ideas from our overseas colleagues – as they did from us. I couldn’t wait to get back home and apply the lessons learnt.’

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