3 Things You Should Know About Oncology Nurses

From the Editor's Desk
May 16, 2017
Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO

I remember a young oncology nurse who once accompanied her patient in the ambulance ride to his home after her shift was over. She told me that she felt her presence would help put him at ease and make the transition feel more seamless.

1. Oncology nurses form close bonds with their patients

Oncology nurses play a key role in getting patients and caregivers through and beyond illness, often forming lasting bonds that continue for years after the last treatment. Patients remember nurses who showed them compassion after a biopsy, took the time to explain the side effects of treatment, and coached them through a difficult procedure. These nurses celebrate victories with patients, comfort them after they hear bad news, advocate for those who need extra help and support, and often facilitate communication between the rest of the medical team and caregivers.

2. Oncology nurses coordinate cancer care

Oncology nurses are essential partners who help patients navigate complex treatment protocols and manage symptoms and side effects. A person’s cancer treatment will weave through many phases, and he or she may see several different professionals from different medical specializations. Often, oncology nurses are the ones who provide consistent information and guidance across the treatment plan. They have the training to assess a person’s needs in both hospitals and outpatient practices. Nurses anticipate the needs of patients and family caregivers and work with case managers and social workers to ensure that patients have adequate support and professional help in their homes and communities. I’ve had many patients who insisted on scheduling their treatments around their nurses’ schedules because the relationship they shared was so important to their care.

3. Oncology nurses know their patients and advocate for them

I have witnessed the grace and compassion of oncology nurses, and I owe them special thanks for helping me understand the lived experience of patients and families. I have grown to appreciate their perspective, which often blends science and advocacy.

I pride myself in knowing my patients as individuals and often start a visit by asking them to tell me about their life, their families, and their interests. But I’m always humbled when I talk to the oncology nurses who follow those patients and I find out that they know a patient much better than I do! There have been countless times when nurses helped clarify details about a patient’s situation that would have been missed otherwise. In my own professional development, I’ve been gently rebuked, praised, humbled, and inspired by my nursing colleagues.

May is Oncology Nursing Month. We need to recognize the contributions that oncology nurses make on the cancer care teamshare on twitter this month and every day. Now and in the future, nurses will play increasingly important roles in cancer care.