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Behind the scenes of oncology

October 30, 2023

reading time

9 min

Martina Landolt, Group Leader Oncology at Zollikerberg Hospital, gives us a unique insight into her day-to-day work and talks about her motivation for working in such a demanding field as oncology.

Can you tell us about your training and professional background?

After a year of work experience in a retirement home, I completed a three-year apprenticeship as a healthcare specialist. I then completed the two-year higher technical college (HF) to become a qualified nursing specialist. After a total of two years' professional experience in an acute hospital as a qualified nurse, I decided to specialise in the field of oncology and completed a two-year postgraduate course to become an oncology specialist. I have now been working in oncology for a total of 4 ½ years.

What motivated you to work in oncology?

Like many other people, I have someone close to me who has cancer. Experiencing this crisis for both the person affected and their relatives has strongly motivated me to acquire specific expertise in order to support and accompany those affected and their relatives during this difficult time.

What does a typical working day look like for you?

My working day usually starts at 7.00 a.m., then I make preparations for the day, including

  • Preparing infusions
  • Preparing pre-medications for the therapies
  • Carrying out quality control of the laboratory equipment
  • Answering emails and taking the first phone calls

The patients are then distributed among the staff on site.

We usually try to plan a joint breakfast break at around 8.00 a.m., as we usually don't have time for this afterwards due to the ongoing therapies. Between 8.45 a.m. and 11.30 a.m., patients are constantly coming to us for drug-based tumour therapies, blood tests, transfusions, bone marrow punctures or consultations. We carry out various medical technical activities: We administer infusions, insert ports, administer therapies and take blood samples. In addition to these activities, we also conduct initial nursing consultations in which we inform patients and their relatives about possible side effects of the therapy and nursing measures. During this consultation, we also want to get to know the patient and their family and determine their need for support or simply explain where a wig can be organised, for example. We also discuss together whether it makes sense to involve nutritional counselling or psycho-oncology. Such intensive discussions make working in oncology very exciting!

As the therapies can take different lengths of time, we don't have fixed break times, but we try to take a lunch break between 12.00 and 13.00. From 13.00 onwards, the patients come back again.

New patients then come in again from 1.00 pm. As soon as all patients have left the ward, we take care of tidying up, cleaning and restocking the necessary materials.

How does chemotherapy work?

I generally don't like the word "chemotherapy" very much, as it often has negative connotations in society. What's more, we don't "only" use traditional chemotherapy here in oncology these days, but also many new targeted therapies. That's why I prefer to call it "drug-based tumour therapy".

Drug tumour therapies can be administered intravenously, i.e. directly into the vein, subcutaneously as an injection into fatty tissue or orally as a tablet. Therefore, not every therapy is the same. Tablet therapies can be taken independently at home, while intravenous and subcutaneous therapies are administered at our outpatient centre in hospital. Intravenous therapy can last from two to eight hours, depending on the number of combined substances or whether a substance needs to be infused particularly slowly, e.g. due to a possible allergic reaction.

What are your responsibilities as an oncology group leader?

We are currently four nurses and two medical practice assistants. I am responsible for monthly duty and holiday planning and conduct the annual appraisals together with the head of the medical outpatient centre.

Furthermore, as a group leader, it is part of my job to recognise and take seriously the needs and psychological stresses of the individual employees.

In addition to managing the group, I work with the other employees and the oncologist to plan the places for the various therapies, administer drug-based tumour therapies and conduct initial consultations. I am glad that my work goes beyond the purely organisational.

Nurse sets up infusion in hospital room.

I particularly like the family atmosphere at Zollikerberg Hospital. I appreciate it when people say hello to each other and enquire how the other person is doing. But I also particularly like the personal and warm-hearted approach in the oncology department. I know the patients very well thanks to our concept of personalised care and accompany them throughout their entire illness process. This is also very much appreciated by our patients.

How do you deal with the emotional challenges that come with caring for cancer patients?

We have an incredibly good team culture in oncology, where we can talk about emotionally difficult situations. The exchange in the interdisciplinary team with nutritional counselling, psycho-oncology and pastoral care also helps to deal with emotional challenges. My social environment (family and friends) is also very important to me and is always a good source of support. But sporting activities such as climbing, hiking or jogging are also very important to me and clear my head of emotional challenges. When I'm climbing in particular, I can no longer think about my day-to-day work because I have to concentrate on how I'm getting on with the climbing route.

What advice would you give to prospective specialists who want to work in oncology?

I think it's very important to find the right work-life balance and to be able to talk openly about situations that are stressful. For me personally, it's helpful to be directly involved in patient care and not "just" administering therapy. This means I am more exposed to emotional stress, but my active position allows me to deal with it and process it better.

What are your long-term goals?

In February 2024, I will start a CAS in Leadership Basic to expand my expertise in terms of employee management. I'm really looking forward to the new specialist input and the interactive exchange in the course group. I am excited about the development of the oncology department at Zollikerberg Hospital and the opportunity to actively shape future changes.

How can you help people with cancer?

By being there for them and supporting them. It is often difficult for relatives, friends or acquaintances to know how to deal with the person affected. In conversations with various patients, I have noticed that it is appreciated if you don't always ask questions about the disease, but try to signal in other ways that you are there for them. It is important to see not only the cancer, but the whole person.

In a very interesting conversation with a patient, I realised that those affected are often offered external help, e.g. for household chores, but they often don't accept it because they would then have to make themselves up because someone "strange" is coming to their home. This patient would have found it easier to accept the help if the people had simply come to her home and said, for example: "You can relax, I'll do the laundry for you today". Perhaps we as relatives, friends or acquaintances need to have the courage to not only offer help, but to simply implement the offer directly so that we can be a relief for those affected.


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