New oncology nurses, either new graduates, or nurses transferring to oncology from another specialty, can learn best practices from their more experienced colleagues. Here, oncology nurses at Advent Health’s Cancer Services in Hendersonville, North Carolina, share their top tips for new oncology nurses.
- Know Your Resources
Knowing your oncology resources is key to providing the best care in a constantly changing specialty. Experienced oncology nurses, let alone new oncology nurses, struggle to stay current. “It’s okay not to know the answer—just know where to find it,” states Jessica Shuford, BSN, RN, OCN®. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) creates clinical guidelines to guide oncology providers’ treatment decisions, but, along with the National Cancer Institute, they also publish excellent patient education on tumor types and other supportive care topics. Although written for patients, this is a perfect starting point for new oncology nurses.
Depending on your oncology subspecialty, clinical guidelines are your go-to resources for oncology nurses. Below are just a few suggestions:
- Oncology Nursing Society Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy Guidelines
- American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Clinical Practice Guidelines
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines
- American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (ASTCT) Practice Guidelines
In addition to evidence-based guidelines, knowing your institution’s policies and protocols and how to access them helps you provide the best, safest care.
- Take Thorough Notes
Learning and recalling the knowledge and skills needed to be an oncology nurse can be overwhelming. Nurse Shuford recommends taking thorough notes during orientation on topics such as multistep processes, charting complicated documentation, pertinent labs, assessment findings, and nursing considerations. Although this information can be quickly found online or in policies, writing notes is a powerful tool to support memory. Meredith Barten, RN, OCN®, encourages new oncology nurses to create a reference binder. Even after several years as an oncology nurse, Nurse Barten still uses her binder to quickly look up necessary information, such as drug information, and to jot down new notes as she learns.
- Utilize Your Multidisciplinary Oncology Team
Caring for a patient with cancer requires the skilled approach of a multidisciplinary team. New oncology nurses often feel overwhelmed or confused with the complexities of cancer care and fail to rely on their team members. Communicating early and often with team members when facing a challenging patient scenario can help nurses avoid mistakes. In addition to other nurses, a multidisciplinary team includes pharmacists, nurse navigators, social workers, oncology dietitians, palliative care teams, and chaplains. Review which resources are available in your cancer program and guidelines on how to reach them.
- Provide Whole-Person Care
Because a cancer diagnosis disrupts a patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, oncology nurses have the unique opportunity to care for the whole person. Although maintaining a patient’s treatment plan is essential, oncology nurses must not lose sight of the patient and their individual needs. “Show your patients you care for them as a person and not just as a patient,” recommends Lauren Gatta, RN, OCN®. She gets to know each of her ambulatory infusion patients and learns what is important to them. Nurse Gatta urges, “Don’t forget to show emotion. You are on this journey alongside them, and they will appreciate you being genuine.”
Oncology nursing offers a long career path with professional development opportunities as well as different roles within the specialty (eg, inpatient, ambulatory infusion, stem cell transplant, research, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, nurse navigation), each with unique learning needs. Although this specialty is challenging, oncology nurses often develop deep relationships with their patients and team members resulting in high job satisfaction.