Born to help others: The cancer nurse nearing another career milestone

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Long-serving health practitioners are often recognised for their years of service, but few have had their contribution to the industry celebrated as many times as Keith Cox.

In his career, five, 10 and 20 year milestones have fallen by the wayside as this Saturday (9 April) he celebrates 46 years of caring for others.

It’s a milestone few others will reach, regardless of the industry they work in. But after almost half a century of service, Mr Cox’s dedication remains as strong as ever.

“I just love the patients,” he said. “I have a special rapport with young people and adolescents, and I just love going out of my way for patients.”

Mr Cox has seen and done more than most during a career that has seen him become recognised as a leading and pioneering cancer nurse.

A fresh-faced Mr Cox began his career at the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital in 1970 and he blazed trails from there.

After completing his training at RPA, Mr Cox was awarded the hospital prize for his year and he went on to become one of the youngest charge nurses in Australia.

He later won an oncology and vascular surgery ward. It was a pivotal moment that sparked his interest in cancer nursing, the field in which he would achieve great things.

He was one of the first oncology and chemotherapy nursing supervisors and consultants in Australia, and one of the nation’s first four oncology and chemotherapy nurse practitioners.

Urged by the English surgeons with whom he worked, Mr Cox went abroad to study cancer nursing in London. He returned to Australia in 1981 and began working as an oncology and chemotherapy nursing supervisor at RPA.

He then moved into consultancy work before accepting the role of oncology and nursing practitioner at the hospital in 2006.

In 2010, Mr Cox worked with the founders of Chris O`Brien Lifehouse to design the cancer centre’s chemotherapy services. He accepted the position of oncology and chemotherapy nurse practitioner when the hospital opened in 2013. He remains in the position today.

Mr Cox’s services to cancer nursing were formally recognised in 2007 when he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal.

“For some, their journey will be short but we can still make it the best it can be,” he said. “Others have a long journey and they come back and see you with their children, or they come back to visit, fit and healthy, and it’s marvellous to see.

“The amount of people with whom I’ve been in contact all these years, and we’ve been able to help in some way, makes it all a little bit easier.”

Mr Cox has also given time to his colleagues. He set an early example to those who were interested in expanding their knowledge, skills and contribution to the profession when he began researching and publishing papers 30 years ago.

This year alone, he has helped four of his younger nurse colleagues get their research posters accepted at the Cancer Nurses Society of Australia conference being held later this year.

His appetite to help others also sees him hold a teaching position at the University of Sydney’s Sydney Nursing School.

Mr Cox jokes that he’s been a nurse since he was eight, but he stops short of revealing the age at which he plans to retire.

It’s hard to imagine that happening anytime soon.

“I feel we’re all put on this earth for a reason,” he said. “My reason is to be a cancer nurse and to help people through their cancer journey.”

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