Supported by our community: Oncology School Visit Program

In late-2018, a group of year 11 students at Pembroke School shaved their heads to raise $21,000 for the Michael Rice Centre in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where their school mate was receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Group of school children.

The group of year 11 students at Pembroke School.

Working with the Michael Rice Centre, the WCH Foundation has directed their funds to assist the Oncology School Visit Program that has been run in the Hospital and supported by the Foundation since 2016.

Staff from the Michael Rice Centre and Hospital School collaborate to run the Oncology School Visit Program that creates greater connections between cancer patients’ kindergartens or schools and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. From July 2018 – June 2019, 42 patients were enrolled in the program.

The program’s School Liaison Nurse (SLN) Rob Ellinger discusses his role, the aim of the program and its impact.

What is the aim of the Oncology School Visit Program?

My role is to provide the school information of the child’s medical needs and health, while a teacher from Hospital School looks at and discusses their education needs.

Through the program we want to connect with the schools, so teachers know how to support students when they return to school and are also educated on what their medical treatment plan looks like.

For some staff members it can be quite intimidating if they are not used to seeing children with central lines and monitoring. By making them feel more supported, it in turn means they can support our patients better.

Children who are diagnosed with cancer are possibly missing out on a lot of school, as well as experiencing disengagement with education and peers. There is also research showing there are less desirable educational outcomes for kids who’ve gone through oncology treatment, which then affects their job and social prospects. By having this program in place, we are trying to minimize this.

Male nurse pictured in hospital

The Oncology School Program’s School Liaison Nurse Rob Ellinger pictured in the Michael Rice Centre.

What information do you share with the schools?

When I meet with schools my aim is for the school staff to know how to support the student when they return to the classroom. I bring them a pack, which includes information about the student’s diagnoses and their personalised treatment plan. It also contains more general information – everything from food safety, sun safety and to how to minimise infectious contact.

For the most part, parents, the Hospital School Principal and a teacher will join me at the meetings with the enrolled school. These meetings are normally attended by their class teacher if the patient is in primary school or their home room teacher if in high school. I also like to meet someone from management, or someone in a support role.

I then also follow-up by email or phone call to go through updated treatment plans or to clarify any questions they have.

What has been the feedback from schools?

It’s been very positive. I think the program provides great support to schools.

Every school that we visit we send a follow-up survey to which has half a dozen questions on whether they felt they received enough information and was it useful. We consistently score very high on all of the questions.

We have also received written feedback from teachers including:

“Both of your staff members were easy to talk to, answered our questions patiently, followed up queries that they could not answer on the spot, and gave informed and detailed information. Thank you for your support around our student who is undergoing treatment at this time.”

“Was great to be informed around the student’s illness and how their schooling will look going forward. Thank you for all your great work.”

“Great conversation/information. We now feel we have a much better headspace to support the young person. We have no hesitation in making contact with the hospital.”

What feedback have you received from parents?

Parents have expressed that they feel more comfortable seeing their child return to school because this program is in place.

The program helps to take some stress away from parents, during what is already an emotional and stressful time.

From Hospital School

Hospital School Principal Matthew McCurry said after Rob speaks about the student’s medical information, as the school leader he then discusses current data, blocks, barriers and support for young people who are receiving or beginning to receive treatment.

“The Hospital School teacher will then speak about the student specifically and discuss planning and continued learning with the meeting’s participants. These meetings enable us to begin the valuable communication between schools and the parents so that we can deliver the best program for the student whether they are in the Hospital, at home or returned to school.”


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