Mrs. Rita Willener wins Ronny Pieters Award for dedication and innovation in urology nursing

For a long period, she was the only urology nurse practising at an advanced level in Switzerland. A long-time advocate for Evidence-Based Nursing (EBN), she improved  urology nursing in her home country and went on to do the very same thing at a European level as a foundation member of the EAUN, all the while following her core belief that what is at the core of working in the medical field are the patients and their needs. Given her long history as a urology nurse of the highest standards, it comes as no surprise that the EAUN Board unanimously decided to award Mrs. Rita Willener (CH) the prestigious Ronny Pieters Award 2020, bestowed at EAUN21 in September 2021, to recognise and celebrate her dedication to and innovation in urology nursing research and practice.

“We have fought for an independent nursing framework”

Mrs. Willener earned her Health and Nursing Care diploma in 1978. After 42 years of nursing, 21 years of which as a clinical nurse specialist in the Department of Urology at the University Hospital Bern, she retired in 2021. We spoke with her about winning the Ronny Pieters Award, an award named after Ronny Pieters (BE) to honour his pioneering achievements and contributions to urology nursing and the constitution and development of the EAUN.

What does winning the EAUN Ronny Pieters Award mean to you?
Mrs. Willener: “Ronny Pieters is an innovator. He has made our voices heard in the EAU Board. He  never gives up. It is great that the award is named after him, and it is a great honour for me to receive it.”

What has been your journey to winning this award?
“I have been working in urology for almost my entire career. It is a fascinating field. I was the first Swiss clinical nurse specialist in urology with a master’s degree. I helped organise the first EAUN Congress in Geneva (CH) back in 2001. In that same year, I initiated the Swiss association of urology nurses and started organising congresses, which I have been doing to this day. I have also built up my own mobile home care service for clean intermittent catheterisation (CIC).”

“During all these past years, I had the opportunity to speak at many EAUN congresses and to lead the nursing care at the University Hospital Bern. In the last few years, I became more interested in palliative care, because we got more and more patients who lived with an incurable disease. At EAU21, I had the opportunity to present our model of palliative care.”

“Always keep the patient and her or his family in focus.”

Who has influenced you the most on this journey?
“My medical inspiration was Prof. Urs E. Studer (CH), who developed the neobladder. As the first Swiss nurse specialist in urology, I was very alone when I started out. I always had to fight for small progress. Prof. Studer supported me and the national and international development of a network for urology nurses. I was very happy with that. Fortunately, I have met many motivated colleagues along the way; colleagues who always helped take up my ideas for new projects. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop anything.”

“I’ve always been inspired by nurses from abroad, and I have had the chance to experience various  meetings with them. Both in the EAUN Board and in the scientific committee of the EAUN, I got to know highly esteemed colleagues who were more advanced in their roles than I was. From all of them, I have learned a lot. I am a fighter and have stamina. I don’t give up quickly; instead, I look for other ways to reach the goal when things don’t work out right away. So I have never been afraid to ask for advice from other experienced nurses. These international colleagues have always motivated me. I appreciate their advice and consideration.”

“When EBN came along, I was thrilled. Finally, we could really participate in the discussion.”

What is the importance of EBN in urology? “When I studied nursing in the seventies, EBN was not well known. At the time, we worked on behalf of the doctor, whose orders we carried out. We were hardly
allowed to express our thoughts and observations during a doctor’s visit. When EBN came along, I was thrilled. Finally, we could put forward our own arguments. Finally, we could really participate in the discussion and convince others of our opinions. We have fought for an independent nursing framework in favour of the patients. It was very exhausting, but I think we have done something great.”

How has urology nursing changed over the length of your career?
“In health care systems around the world, the diagnostic and technical possibilities have changed dramatically. Many examinations and operations are now carried out in an outpatient setting, and patients stay hospitalised for a short amount of time only. This has consequences for the whole system. Inpatients are increasingly geriatric. We have to think and act more comprehensively and interprofessionally. We cannot limit nursing to the hospital stay, but we also have to consider the home situation of the patients, so that therapies can be implemented effectively.”

What has been the most valuable experience for you as part of the EAUN?
“Being a member of the EAUN and especially being a board member always motivated me. In the board,
was very committed to contribute my part. I have had so many enriching exchanges and great opportunities to learn at congresses. Furthermore, urology nurses are finally perceived as specialists.”
What is your dream for the future of urology nursing? “I have a dream on political level: I wish that we will have enough well-educated nurses who can do their jobs under good conditions and earn proper  money.  This is the only way we can guarantee safe and competent care.”

What piece of advice would you give to a urology nurse starting out now?
“Stay motivated, think outside the box, network, connect with good colleagues, do further training, stay in clinical practice, and always keep the patient and her or his family in focus.”