One nurse is determined to change our nation’s approach to health care – channelling a personal loss into transformative research.

This year, Dr Vanessa Brunelli was the recipient of the inaugural Shine a Light on Lung Cancer Early Career Nursing Fellowship in Lung Cancer Research – a grant to focus on supportive care research to reduce the impact of lung cancer and improve outcomes for those affected.

Her project, Expectations, Standards and Performance Framework to Evidence the Role and Practices of the Australian Specialist Lung Cancer Nurse, is a vital step to improving access to life-changing care.

In Australia, there are as few as ten full-time equivalent specialist lung cancer nurses, compared to over 440 specialist breast cancer nurses. Research shows that people who have access to a specialist lung cancer nurse are 34% more likely to receive treatment than those who do not, yet there is limited investment to increase this work-force capacity.

Vanessa is working with nurses, multidisciplinary experts and consumer advocates across the nation to develop new and critical evidence about the role and core supportive care practices of specialist lung cancer nurses. This evidence will inform future large-scale projects which will implement and evaluate the role of these nurses in the Australian health care system.

For Vanessa, the inequitable access to treatment, support and care for those diagnosed with lung cancer hits close to home.

“My grandparents died from lung cancer. Their deaths were a traumatic experience – for them and for our family. They experienced a ‘classic case’ of stigma,” she said.

“They were Italian immigrants, spoke broken English, were farmers, and were smokers. They were however also quite well to do and could have afforded any type of treatment and care had it been made available to them.

“At the heart of their situation was a perception by others that they were somehow less important. In my 20-plus years of oncology nursing, I’ve learnt, unfortunately, their situation is not unique.”

This project is no easy-feat, but Vanessa is determined to promote the message that people living with lung cancer matter.

“It’s my hope that this research will allow all people living with lung cancer to receive timely, coordinated and continuous care by a dedicated specialist lung cancer nurse.

“There is evidence that shows people living with other types of cancer
who experience the involvement of a specialist cancer nurse in their care have better overall outcomes across the disease trajectory than those who do not.

“People living with lung cancer deserve the same support and opportunities as those impacted by other commonly diagnosed cancers.”

Currently, there are too few specialist lung cancer nurses to give the care people living with lung cancer desperately need.

“We know that 28% of patients aren’t staged when diagnosed, potentially missing out on life-changing treatment and care. In fact, 20% do not receive
any treatment following diagnosis. Lung cancer nurses play a key role in helping to facilitate timely access to care,” Lung Foundation Australia CEO
Mark Brooke said.

“We’ve seen the considerable benefits for breast cancer patients and it’s time we saw the same access to care and support for people living with lung cancer. In the complex and difficult to navigate health care system, these nurses are fundamental to ensuring people receive the right treatment and care and at the right time.

“We’re very proud to support Vanessa’s research and look forward to seeing the outcomes of her incredible work.”

The Research Award was made possible by the generosity of the Shine a Light on Lung Cancer community who, collectively, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support life-changing research projects.

“That this fellowship research is underway should generate a great sense of achievement for people, as it was in part the united and consistent advocacy of the community that informed funding decision-makers of the importance of this research,” Vanessa said.

To find out more about how you can donate to support researchers like Vanessa, visit