Australian & New Zealand Childrens Haematology/Oncology Group


Spotlight Series – Dr Tristan Pettit

Dr Tristan Pettit
Paediatric and Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncologist
Christchurch Hospital, NZ

Tristan is a paediatric oncologist at the Children’s Haematology Oncology Centre at Christchurch Hospital, which manages patients from the South Island and Wellington.  “Being a comparatively smaller centre, we don’t have dedicated oncologists for specific cancer types,” he notes, “I like the diversity that comes with being a general paediatric oncologist.”

He is also the paediatric lead for the AYA Cancer Service at Christchurch Hospital, which is a collaborative service across multiple departments. He particularly enjoys the cooperative aspect of AYA cancer care, within the hospital and as part of the South Island AYA Cancer Service also.

“Often the appropriate medical care will be provided for the AYA patient, but in a foreign treatment environment, which may not address the many needs that are important for an AYA patient.  Advocating for improvements in this aspect of cancer care is challenging and can be very frustrating! An optimistic personality is helpful. Building relationships is the key to progress.“

Tristan cites the increased use of paediatric leukaemia protocols for AYA haematology patients in the South Island as an example of progress. “The haematology department have done an excellent job with the development of South Island-wide referral pathways that enable AYA patients from other regions to travel to Christchurch Hospital for diagnosis and initiation of treatment on a paediatric based leukemia protocol, with the AYA cancer service’s support. We have recently opened other paediatric leukaemia clinical trials that also enrol AYA patients – this means older AYA patients can access a wider range of new treatments and practices.”

Tristan is currently leading a multi-site AYA survivorship project, which is utilising an online survey to identify the spectrum of survivorship barriers that AYA patients are experiencing in different regions of New Zealand. He hopes that the results will be used in the future to tailor survivorship care.

Tristan was initially drawn to paediatrics because of the challenges provided by communicating and treating children of different ages. He was able to see that a career in oncology would be interesting and fulfilling by observing his father, who is a retired haematologist. His liking for paediatric oncology was confirmed after working with paediatric oncologists Rob Corbett and Michael Sullivan in Christchurch during his registrar years. 

Tristan completed a two year clinical fellowship at Sydney Children’s Hospital. “I learnt a huge amount. Patient volumes were larger, and the clinical experience that was gained as a result was immeasurable. There was a large research focus – something which I’d like to think I have incorporated into my work as a result.”

Tristan acknowledges the high level of stress, emotional toll and potential burn-out that can come with working in the paediatric oncology field. “While you are at work –  all of your energy is focussed on your patients and families; you need to make sure that you don’t take this stress home. We all know that some days are pretty draining. I make a conscious effort to ‘switch off’ on my commute home. I have just started learning to surf which is awesome.  My family and non-work friends are excellent in helping me at different times, but when you are having a really bad day, it is the support from colleagues which makes a huge difference.”.

When asked what he sees as the key area where improvements can be made in the paediatric oncology in the next 5-10 years, Tristan is definite in his answer.

“I would like to see AYA cancer services further ingrained into hospital care throughout New Zealand, with increased and sustained support from government, hospital management, and all clinical services associated with AYA cancer patients. “

“I would also like to see improvements in access and costs of targeted therapies for all cancer patients in New Zealand. There is growing inequity in this area, not just nationally, but internationally too. It isn’t right.”

Below are the different health professionals and researchers we have shone a light on during September