Dawn Turner with dark long hair and a fringe in navy nurse's uniform

National Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Day 2024 today (Friday 15 March 2024). To mark the day we spoke with Dawn Turner who is a Rapid Diagnostic Centre Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist at Tameside Macmillan Unit, Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care Trust. 

Dawn Turner and family. Dawn holds her daughter on her hip and holding hands with her other child who is also holding hands with a man in RAF uniformDawn first started her CNS career journey as an associate CNS in 2019 and then entered her current role in 2021. Dawn shared with us her journey to this current role, what inspired her into a career in cancer and what the CNS role means to her.

Talk us through your career journey so far

I joined the RAF in 2003 to start my basic training (four months of being told what to do, up until silly hours ironing and polishing etc). In the June I ‘passed out’ which is a ceremonial parade to celebrate all we’d achieved. We then got posted to the University of Central England (now Birmingham City University) to start the same three year student nurse training as our NHS colleagues but in a very impractical white dress and shoe! We had the same access to NHS placements as the rest but during the long summer breaks we were asked to find a suitable military placement so we would spend long weeks in military medical centres seeing to many primary care duties as well as the slightly added pressure of responding to aircraft emergencies or sports/training injuries.

“It is a challenge in itself to get around the logistics of wound care on a noisy, dusty aircraft!”Dawn Turner in military uniform with a red cross on her arm

Once qualified I started life as a baby staff nurse on a 12 month rotation before settling on a very traditional (and well run) trauma and orthopaedic ward in Peterborough. I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 for four months as a aero-medical nurse flying enemies, foreign troops, civilians and our own forces across the country and back to the UK. This is a role that no one can prepare you for and it is a challenge in itself to get around the logistics of wound care on a noisy, dusty aircraft! Although I enjoyed the wards and spent two years at Peterborough, I wanted more military exposure so moved into primary care for the next few years until I left the RAF in 2015.

When I left the RAF we were living in Lincoln where the local hospice was rebound for first class care so I started to work bank shifts before picking up a senior staff nurse position. I worked as the Trust clinical educator for 12 months also where I could work across sites with hospice at home and day therapy teams as well as my beloved inpatient unit. Although my career has been very different, I have always been a ward/hospital-based nurse at heart. After another move within the UK but this time back home to be near family, I thought palliative care was where I wanted to remain, but hearing some of the patient experiences and being interested in the support side of cancer diagnosis, I then started to look into a cancer clinical nurse specialist (CNS) role.