Q&A with Mark Darley

Mark Darley worked at The Royal Marsden between 1986 – 1992

Mark Darley worked at The Royal Marsden between 1986 – 1992; starting out as an ENB Student Staff Nurse, progressing on to be a Charge Nurse and then Assistant to the Chief Nurse – where he worked alongside Robert Tiffany (most commonly known as Bob Tiffany) for three years.  He also acted as secretary to the International Society of Nurses in Cancer care and edited their newsletter.

Apart from working at The Royal Marsden, he was also exposed to the international cancer nursing community, much of which was directly linked to the work of Bob Tiffany and his passion for ensuring people with cancer got the best care from superbly prepared, dedicated and experienced Cancer nurses. Today The Oncology Nursing Society in the USA leads this work, but Bob is widely acknowledged as the father of modern Cancer Nursing and it was Mark’s honor to work with Bob. Without his link to The Royal Marsden this pioneering work may never have happened because the vision of The Royal Marsden’s executive management enabled Bob to do all he did.

We caught up with Mark to find out about his experience, and the core principles that he learnt at The Royal Marsden, famously known as ‘The Marsden Way’!

Mark, why did you decide to come and work for The Royal Marsden?

“I was Chairman of the RCN National Student Nurses Association, and during my second year of nursing, I attended a conference where the late Bob Tiffany presented.  I was blown away by Bob’s enthusiasm and positive energy – his sheer passion for patient-centred care.

“Bob told a story about a male patient whose dying wish was to be in his own armchair. The staff at The Royal Marsden organised for his armchair to be brought into the hospital, and as soon as the chair arrived, he moved over into his armchair. Very shortly afterwards, the gentleman passed away. This story really stuck with me. It illustrated that at The Royal Marsden a patient’s needs and end of life wishes are paramount, that patient-centred care is ‘The Marsden Way’.

“I knew at that moment that I had to work at The Royal Marsden and study to be a cancer nurse, it was, for me, the only place to work.

“He really was my role model, and still to this day I use principles I learnt from Bob while at The Royal Marsden. In my current role, as Patient Care Group Manager at Trustbridge Hospice in Florida, I teach my staff these principles – encouraging them to adopt ‘The Marsden Way’ of doing things. Indeed, Trustbridge Hospice is the only organisation I have worked for since that adopts the approach to care so brilliantly practiced at The Royal Marsden.”

What sets The Royal Marsden apart from other hospitals you’ve worked at?

  • Patient-centred care – the staff at The Royal Marsden were encouraged to get to know patients as individuals, from understanding whether they like tea or coffee to knowing how many sugars they take. There’s a real emphasis on getting to know the patients to ensure the care is appropriate for them.
  • Going the extra mile for patients and staff – whilst I was at The Royal Marsden, I cared for a lady whose sister lived in Canada. She was very sick and her spirit was willing her to hang on until she spoke with her sister. In those days, there was no readily available internet or Smartphones, so I organised for her to speak to her sister. That experience has remained with me all my working life. It speaks volumes about what I knew to be ‘The Marsden Way’.

Bob Tiffany, former Chief Nurse, was passionate about ensuring his staff members received regular education. Bob firmly believed that training is paramount to service delivery. I was assisted to complete my Masters in Health Administration at Bruner University. Bob was key in ensuring I was able to successfully complete the degree.

  • The Royal Marsden was like a family – when I went to work, it didn’t feel like I was just going to a job, it felt like I was going to spend time with my friends. Nearly 30 years later, I’m still in touch with many of them. Kevin and Helen Moore, Kate Newlands, Cath Miller and Karen Burnett among others.

What is your favourite memory from working at The Royal Marsden?

“The main thing that has stuck with me throughout my whole career is ‘The Marsden Way’ of doing things. During my time at The Royal Marsden, doctors and nurses were treated as equals – no matter what your level or area of expertise, your opinion and skills were valued.

“Two of my favourite memories are:

  1. Caring for the young lady, who was being treated at the end of her life when I organised for her to receive a phone call from her sister in Canada. Shortly after the call finished, she asked if I could put my arms around her and moments later she died in my arms. This lady didn’t want to die alone and she had completed her wishes on this earth. What The Royal Marsden taught me was that it’s a high priority to treat and care for patients in a way that best suits their needs and wishes.
  2. The gentleman’s dying wish that he died in his own armchair. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible for him to go home. It was quite a special and touching moment.

“The six years that I worked at The Royal Marsden were the best six years of my career. I made friends that I’m still in touch with and memories for life.

“It was never just a job. You worked at The Royal Marsden because you wanted to. I still regret the day I left to pursue my career at the NMC and then in senior NHS management before moving to Florida.”

If you could use 3 words, which words would you use to summarise your time at The Royal Marsden?

  • Inspiring – because of Bob Tiffany and the other inspirational leaders
  • Humbling – because you felt like part of a strong knit team who were changing lives
  • Fun – because of the family-feel with staff

What advice would you give to a Student Nurse?

“Get a year of solid surgical/medical experience, then look at areas you want to specialise in. Oncology is a great choice if you’re a people-person.”

Where are you now, Mark?

“I’m now a Patient Care Group Manager at Trustbridge Hospice in the USA, response for a large team of clinical specialists and care assistants looking after 120 patients in the community. I’ve brought ‘The Marsden Way’ of working over to the USA, and I’ve embedded many principles into my work here. The Royal Marsden always made a difference and, in me, it continues to do that to this day.”