A distinguished career helping families cope with allergies and eczema 

7 April 2021
Ever thought about pursuing a career in education or research? We took some time to chat with Mrs Deryn Thompson, who was the winner of the 2020 ANMF Award for Research in Action to learn more about her role as a lecturer in Nursing with the University of South Australia’s Clinical and Health Sciences, Eczema Nurse educator at the WCHN, Allergy Nurse with Allergy SA and author of numerous publications influencing practice change with evidence-based best practice.

Please tell us about yourself?

I was schooled in Australia and the UK.

Hospital-trained originally, St Andrew’s Hospital. Did aged care for a while, had children, then palliative care. Allergy nursing started in 1988 – current plus eczema education.

Completed Bridging degree in 2004, Master of Nursing 2013. Currently undertaking a PhD, with submission soon ‘How Paediatric and Child Health nurses use Learning principles in parent education practice’.

What inspired you to become a nurse?
I nearly did podiatry!! I wanted a profession involving people and health care. Nursing beckoned louder.

Where do you currently work? Have previously worked?
Areas of nursing practice are allergy nursing and eczema education. Mostly private allergy specialist rooms since 1988; WCHN nurse-led eczema education clinic established 2009- present. I am also a lecturer at University of South Australia.

Can you describe your field of expertise, and what a typical week may entail?
Eczema clinic involves 1-on-1 education to patients who have eczema and families. Psychosocial and financial impact of eczema is high. Research suggests stress for families is higher than if child had diabetes or deafness.

Parents spend 3-4 hours daily on treatments, so nurses need to optimise patient and parents’ learning to manage condition and to problem-solve, when condition changes. Critical is explaining facts to families in straightforward terms, demonstrating what needs to be done and helping families to practice what they need to, to master their child’s or family member’s care.

In the allergy clinic in private practice, skin prick testing, immunotherapy and a significant amount of intensive patient and family education. Allergies are often complex, patients and families need to know where to source reliable, evidence-based information, be able to follow their action plan, use their automated epinephrine devices, manage eczema if it is also present, asthma management, etc. There is never a dull moment, but that is the attraction.

What inspired your particular field of study?
Many people think ‘it is just eczema’, or allergies, but are unaware of the significant impact on families before nurses teach them the ‘what, how, when and, importantly, WHY’. Demonstrations of what to do, parents practising what to do, are vital. Most importantly, nurses are critical to helping patients and families develop the problem-solving skills to follow their care plans with confidence.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your profession?
When patients and parents return, eczema has improved or they are much less anxious about caring for their family member who has allergic conditions. Most importantly, they can explain the how, what, why and when of what has happened between visits. They have the knowledge, capability and confidence to manage care, even when some setbacks occur. Empowerment comes from helping patients and families turn the information provided to them into knowledge they can use in a variety of contexts. Patients and families have faith in themselves to persevere. This is critical, as eczema and even most people’s allergies cannot be ‘cured’- but it can be well managed.  

Establishing the professional Certificate of Allergy Nursing, a nine-unit university-based course for registered nurses, at the University of South Australia. The 15 weeks’ course enables nurses to understand the role of the allergy nurse, legal and ethical requirements, best practice recommendations for managing allergic conditions, become critical consumers of information and able to work in a variety of contexts.

The most challenging aspects?

  1. Patients and families often have gained much misinformation about their conditions. For example, there’s no known cure for eczema so beware of spurious claims that some magical cream can deliver a wonder cure. Both eczema nurses and allergy nurses spend a significant part of their practice helping to correct misinformation, especially if it is unsafe. Patient and family safety is vital. We enable each patient’s and their family’s learning to control their eczema. Effective learning helps them develop knowledge, skills and confidence, facilitating empowerment.
  2. Ever increasing costs for families of medications, as more preparations go over the counter.

Achievements you are most proud of?
Establishing the eczema education clinic and helping clinicians to see the value of education on the QOL, skills and capabilities for patients and families to manage their condition, optimally using problem-solving skills. The clinic is the outcome of the Premier’s Nursing scholarship in 2006, where my trip to the UK to visit eczema clinics enabled me to see how this could be done in SA, and set the process in motion, with the help of colleagues.

Advice to upcoming nurses?
Value colleagues’ wisdom as you will gain great insights, as well as learning the importance of following best practice. Continually think about how you are applying your own knowledge to practice, as a key role of nurses is to help patients gain the knowledge about managing their condition/situation and be able to apply that knowledge with confidence and capability.

Caring, compassion and empathy are also important attributes we need to show each other. My peers have provided amazing support and encouragement to my work over the years, and for that I am very grateful.

Continuously undertake professional development as it not only potentially helps improve patient outcomes through current best practice, but helps you to stimulate your own continued learning.

Join professional organisations linked to your areas of practice or interest. Volunteer for committee roles within those organisations as they help develop leadership, administrative skills and how to work effectively within a system, as well as teamwork skills. Active roles can initiate changes in nursing practice to improve patient outcomes.

Believe that you do have value knowledge and skills to share at conferences and education days. Other people ARE interested in what you do - especially when nurses are passionate about the areas of their work.  Also think about writing about your work in nursing journals. Although nurses are all very busy, we need to do this more to help upcoming nurses PD, knowledge and skills.

What prompted you to become an ANMF member?
The educational resources and professional development opportunities, networking with other nurses, the professional indemnity insurance and legal help offered to members. Member card benefits too.

What are the challenges facing the medical profession … ongoing safety issues, predicted shortage of nurses?
When the demographic of my age group retire, it is to be hoped that the younger nurses have had the opportunities they need to continue nursing.

Where could improvements be made to the profession?
That is a difficult question as every person has different needs and as shown in the year of 2020, the whole world can change very quickly. Encourage nurses to maintain interest in their careers by undertaking professional development opportunities, joining committees attached to their areas of interest/expertise and recognising that they have much to contribute to the profession through involvement in research, however small that contribution may appear.

Do you think COVID has heightened/strengthened awareness/appreciation of the profession?
In some areas, especially overseas, where COVID has had a greater population wide impact, ravaging some areas of nursing.

The most interesting/challenging cases you have dealt with?
It can be challenging supporting children, teenagers and young adults with eczema, having to keep in mind the principles of PFCC and implementing best practice recommendations. With these people, clear explanations and rationales help, but things need to be aligned with what they are prepared/able do.  When they have become confident and capable to manage their care themselves on an ongoing basis and I have helped this process, it is very rewarding.

How do you unwind from work? Recreation, time off, etc?
Swimming, gardening, growing own produce, and riding my bike (just leisure not racing!!).