Below you will find more information about the unique service provided by our specialist Learning Mentors who deliver an educational programme to children, teenage and young adult cancer patients attending both the LGI and St James’s University Hospital for treatment.

Our Learning Mentor Barbara writesA Typical week in the Life of a Specialist Learning Mentor:

What follows is an account of Karen’s ‘typical week’. 15/6/12

No two weeks are ever the same as a Learning Mentor on the Teenage Oncology wards, but I’ve put together a bit of an overview of a ‘typical’ week in my job which should hopefully give you an insight into what I do!

Every morning I visit the teenage ward to find out which patients are in, this helps to timetable the school aged patients in for sessions either in the Learning Zone or at their bedside around other treatments or therapies. It also helps me to keep track of when newly diagnosed patients are first admitted onto the ward so I can introduce myself and the Learning Zone and can also find out more about them, whether they’re at school, college or even if they’re not in any form of education at the moment.

During the week there might be two new patients admitted onto the ward, one who is in year 10 and in the middle of their GCSE studies and another who is in sixth form working towards their A levels. Once they’ve settled in on the ward, I’ll introduce myself and often am greeted with a huge sigh of relief by both the young person and their parents. Exams and grades had previously been one of the biggest stresses they had in life, so inevitably one of the first things they’d been worried about was how they’d manage missing so many lessons and not being well. I sit down and explain the process of teaching in the hospital as well as the fact that they will be referred for home teaching until they are well enough to go to school. Parents really find that my presence takes a lot of pressure off them; I’ll contact school on their behalf usually and can often be the person who breaks the news to a school that one of their pupils has leukaemia or another form of cancer, saving the parents having to explain this emotional news to yet another person.

For school age pupils I will always ask them to send information from subject teachers in school so that our Learning Zone teachers can pick up from where the pupil was in the curriculum when they were last in school. I’ll also explain that myself and the Macmillan Nurse assigned to the pupil will arrange to visit school and talk more about the impact that the diagnosis will have on the pupil’s education and how we can all work together to make things as easy as possible for them. Older pupils are slightly different, if they’re in sixth form students often feel able to take the responsibility to look after their own education a little more, there may be a patient who knows that most of their assessments are coursework based but they still have a few more sections to cover this year so in this case the student may ask me to get in touch with their teachers and get them to send work home to them. I’m always there as a point of contact if any issues with deadlines, access to schoolwork or not understanding topics of work arise.

On the ward this week there might be a patient who is reluctant to engage with school and our teachers. I’ll always make a point of joining in any ward activities when patients like this are involved as doing something fun together whether its jewellery making, plate spinning or making animations as it helps to engage with them and get to know what they like in an education-free environment. I might discover that they have a real love for Manchester United or have seen every Harry Potter film ten times, and this can be key in engaging them with the Learning Zone, maybe by analysing the language of the cup final commentary or by testing their own potions in a physics lesson.

There could be another young person on the ward who is coming to the end of treatment, and after missing a year of school during their GCSE’s they are starting to think about cutting down their subject load so their timetable back at school isn’t as daunting. I will spend time with this patient talking to them about the sort of career they might be interested in and which of their subjects might be useful for their future so that they can make informed choices which won’t limit their options at A level and beyond. Next week we have a meeting at this patient’s school, which the Macmillan Nurse and I, along with the patient and their parents attend to discuss with the staff involved how the pupil can be reintegrated after such a long absence. We’ll look together at the timetable and work out what the pupil will find manageable and will also work out strategies to ensure that they are fully caught up with work that they have missed whilst away from school.

Later on in the week, I get a call from one of the Nurse Specialists to say that a 19 year old patient who has finished treatment has come into clinic and has decided that after two years of not being in education whilst being treated, they are finally ready to think about their future but have no idea where to start. I’ll go along to the day clinic and meet this young person, find out more about them, what qualifications they already have, what interests they have and where they see themselves in the future. I can help them to research courses and places to study and help them to get to the stage where they’ve found a course that they’re really enthusiastic about and have been offered a place.

At the psychosocial meeting, I am told about a girl in the first year of her degree course at University, she has already spoken to her tutors about needing an extension for the essay deadlines she has coming up in two weeks time as she has just been diagnosed and is due to start treatment over the next few days. I arrange to meet this patient when they come onto the ward the next day and will make sure they feel confident about University still and don’t have any other worries. When I meet them, they tell me about their upcoming exams in a month’s time and their worries about potentially being in hospital over this time. The patient gives me contact details for her tutor and the student support services so I can get in touch with them and find out if there is anything that can be done to help them out and still complete their first year of University despite being diagnosed with cancer.

Hopefully this has given you an insight into just some of the things that I spend my time doing as a Specialist Learning Mentor, as you can see, it’s an incredibly diverse role and involves really getting to know each patient I work with as no two patients have the same needs.


Recently, a patient who I’ve been helping to rearrange exams for asked me if she could write an article about me for an online University ‘magazine’ style webpage. Charlotte, an English and Classics student at Leeds University, named me as her ‘Campus Celebrity’ as a way of sharing the work I do for patients like her in enabling them to continue with their studies.

Here’s the article if you’d like to read it:

Really, Charlotte is the real celebrity, showing so much determination to carry on with her degree and also taking the time to get her own writing published on the HerCampus website. She’s been a pleasure to work with and I’m sure she has a bright future ahead of her!











Patients recover and others survive for many years from their illness. Therefore, it is imperative they continue with their studies, giving them a sense of purpose and hope for their future.


The following booklets give you more information about the role of the Mentor and the work they do at the Children’s Cancer Ward, Learning Zone and Teenage and Adult Cancer Ward. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read these leaflets.

booklet for teenagers and young adults

A service for children cancer patients through the provision of Learning Mentors