Recent data suggest that 80% of all cancer care is provided in the outpatient setting. With the shift in cancer care to the ambulatory care setting, a dedicated oncology nurse educator is key to equipping nurses with the information they need to respond to the increasing patient acuity and diversity. Whether you want to strengthen your educator role or create one, there are several strategies to help you.
An ambulatory care oncology nurse educator is a registered nurse who influences the professional role competence of outpatient clinical staff members. Nurse educators create an environment that promotes continuous development and learning by the healthcare team.
Benefits and Challenges of the Ambulatory Care Nurse Educator Role
Ambulatory nurse educator roles are like inpatient nurse educators. They often are responsible for:
- Orientation and onboarding of new clinical team members
- Competency management
- Education and role development
- Research, evidence-based practice, or quality improvement
Nurse educators hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and many have a master’s degree. Furthermore, they often hold oncology certifications or are in the specialty of nursing professional development (NPD-BC®), enabling them to serve as content experts for their team. Ambulatory nurse educators are proficient in identifying gaps in knowledge and designing education to address practice gaps to improve the quality of patient care. They lend support and serve as a resource to the clinical team in daily practice.
Balancing the educator’s responsibilities while remaining visible and accessible to the clinical team is a constant challenge. In some oncology practices, educators cover multiple practice settings, making them feel pulled in different directions. Due to the turnover of team members, educators may find themselves spending more time on the responsibility of onboarding, leaving less time for educating and mentoring their team.
How to Develop a Strong Ambulatory Nurse Educator Role
Below are some ideas to help develop a new nurse educator role or strengthen a current one:
1. Understand the Role of the Oncology Nurse Educator
As an oncology expert, educators must stay current on the changing landscape of oncology nursing. Knowing the scope and standards of practice is essential to ensuring practice alignment. The Oncology Nursing Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines and standards direct the practice of nurses, particularly when administering chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The Association for Nursing Professional Development is an excellent resource for learning more about the scope and practice of the nurse educator with many educational opportunities to assist in developing your role.
2. Assess Practice Gaps and Identify Learning Needs
Assess practice gaps and identify the learning needs of your team to ensure education meets the needs of the department and nursing team. For example, one topic of discussion on a Facebook oncology nursing group was “how long do you observe patients after administering packed red blood cells?” In some practices, patients wait for up to an hour after the infusion is complete, but other practices discharge patients immediately if no signs of a reaction were present. A nurse educator would research evidence-based practice guidelines for a blood transfusion to determine if the practice is aligned with current practice recommendations and if not, approach management to change practice and then educate staff on practice change.
Patient safety, patient satisfaction, and staff competence are a few practice gap areas. Focus on measurable outcomes as you develop and implement educational strategies.
3. Demonstrate the Value of Nursing Education
Outcome measurements are essential to show the value of ambulatory care education. Consider these parameters to assess if your education:
- Enhances patient safety
- Increases staff retention and satisfaction scores
- Prepares staff for program accreditations (eg, Commission on Cancer or Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI)
- Improves patient satisfaction scores
The ambulatory nurse educator must ensure that methods are in place to measure the impact of nursing education to leadership and display the benefit of their position.
As cancer treatment improves and cancer survival rates grow, staff in the ambulatory care setting can benefit from a dedicated ambulatory nurse educator. What steps can you take today to recruit, promote, develop, or strengthen an ambulatory care oncology nurse educator role?
The Vital Role of Oncology Nursing in Ambulatory Care
American Society of Clinical Oncology/Oncology Nursing Society Chemotherapy Administration Safety Standards
Association of Nursing Professional Development
ASCO QOPI: Quality Oncology Practice Initiative