A sense of adventure and a desire to make a difference took Ursula Jewell from the other side of the world to her role at the South Island Alliance. Originally from Germany, Ursula studied science in the UK and completed her PhD in Switzerland, before working in Lancaster and moving to New Zealand in 2004.
During her role as principle investigator of cancer research at Otago Medical School, Ursula completed an MBA to learn more about project management and leadership. After exploring other opportunities in the field, she decided to make the transition from cancer research to cancer services. “I wanted to be more involved in working on projects that have a direct impact on cancer services, rather than research, where the impact is many years down the line.”
Ursula joined the Southern Cancer Network (SCN) in 2010, where she develops and manages initiatives and projects. “I work with South Island DHBs to assist with the implementation of new systems to improve their services and help them meet government health targets. I also work at a national level, with the Ministry of Health.”
Working on projects she sees meaning and value in, is one of the many reasons Ursula enjoys her role. “Helping to improve cancer outcomes is certainly valuable and I also really enjoy working with driven people,” she says. “Clinicians are usually very driven and I love working with them, as well as people from different professions, such as service managers, nurses, doctors, IT, and also cancer patients – covering the whole spectrum of cancer services.”
In September 2015, she embarked on another adventure – working in Antarctica. She took a year’s leave of absence to work closely with people from a range of different backgrounds, from mechanics and labourers, to scientists and professors. “I had to start new initiatives and drum up support for them, so it also gave me the opportunity to further learn how to lead people without any hierarchy or organisational power over them, except for my own conduct. I tried different methods and approaches, and took what I learnt back to my SCN role. It was also fantastic to see the changes that had taken place over the time I was away.”
Ursula says seeing results from one of SCN’s most significant projects, Faster Cancer Treatment (FCT), has been very rewarding. “FCT has been running for a number of years, to ensure patients with a high suspicion of cancer are seen urgently and receive the first treatment within 62 days. While it’s a simple goal, you would think it’s straightforward to implement; but when you put it into the context of hospital resources and the fact they are also looking after other patients who are critical with other illnesses and ailments, it became not all that easy.
“The project has led to many improvements, and has strong support from DHBs. Once a month when we see the numbers coming through, it’s really great to see the improvements taking place and that cancer patients are being treated in a timely manner.”