When Letitia “Tish” Lancaster told her high school teacher she was going to be a nurse, her teacher said: “You could do better than that.”
Now after being named a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to oncology nursing and professional socieities, Tish’s response is: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
She was among 1,190 extraordinary Australians recognised for their contributions to our nation in the Queen’s Birthday 2021 Honours List, and one of three with links to Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).
The Leichhardt resident, who retired from her clinical nurse consultant role in February after 25 years at Westmead Hospital, said she “feels like a bit of a fraud” and dedicated the recognition to the people she worked with.
“There’s nothing special about me – I’ve just always worked in fantastic teams. Teams are the foundation of patient care, of research and of education. Functional teams make us all look good,” Tish said.
“I loved my job at Westmead Hospital to bits. It was the best job I ever had and more than I ever anticipated it would be. It was a very hard decision to retire but I left on a high.
“The highlight of my time at Westmead was working with the very cohesive team in the Gynaecological Oncology Unit. I was always supported in my professional activities outside the hospital and at times was pushed beyond my comfort zone. This enabled me to thrive both personally and professionally.”
In the mid-90s Tish was nominated for a NSW Health committee at a time when nurses were not traditionally included at that level of decision making.
“I was daunted at first but came to realise that I was representing a different perspective in patient care,” she said.
“It was a great privilege to represent the people of Western Sydney. It’s a diverse population with unique needs and these people don’t always have a seat at the table at that level of healthcare decision-making.”
Over the course of her 45-year career, Tish has held positions including board member of the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care (ISNCC), chair of the Cancer Nurses Society of Australia, and co-editor of the Australian Journal of Cancer Nursing.
She was named Westmead Hospital’s Nurse of the Year in 2012, received a Distinguished Merit Award from the INSCC in 2018, and published an oncology nursing textbook.
Nurses can do anything we set our minds to. We shouldn’t feel limited by education, age or hierarchy.
“If you have passion for anything then don’t ever think you can’t do it. And if you don’t succeed the first time, don’t give up,” Tish said.
Since retiring from her full-time role in February, she is enjoying a less hectic life – although she will return to Westmead Hospital later in the year on a casual basis to do some work with a clinical trial.
Also among those honoured this year were Joanne Edwards, who received the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service to community health in NSW.
Joanne previously worked as the Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Clinical Governance at WSLHD, where she drove the development of the Safety and Quality Account and Safety and Quality Improvement Strategy, and introduced the ‘My Experience Survey’, which enabled real time measurement for patients and consumers to drive improvement.
She is now the Deputy State Health Emergency Operations Centre Controller, responsible for COVID-19 roles and responsibilities including managing hotel quarantine and border restrictions, working with public and private pathology providers to establish testing clinics, and working with public and private hospitals to ensure NSW was able to meet the demand for care and treatment should a surge in cases occur.
Former Blacktown Hospital Birthing Unit team leader Margaret Vincent was also named a Member of the Order of Australia for service to community health.
Margaret now lives in Avondale on the NSW south coast and has volunteered with St John Ambulance Australia for 37 years, assisting with everything from the 2000 Olympics to the devastating 2020 bushfires.