A tip I love to share with new oncology nurses is the concept of incorporating whole patient care into your nursing practice. This looks past the physical disease and also looks at the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of your patients. Often, your spirituality and religion is the foundation to your life and health care choices. It’s also been found that, in studies, that if a person practices a religion or a spirituality, that they live a longer lifespan and they spend less time in the hospital, and that’s what we want for our patients. So, to foster that area of their health is just as important as the physical. There’s the saying that where the mind goes, the body will follow. I find that to be incredibly true. If you have a patient who is going downhill mentally, most of the time the body will follow. Our job is to instill positivity, hope, encouragement in these patients, and walk alongside them in their journey.
The more genuine you can be with them, the more real they’re going to be with you. I know that getting a glimpse into this world of your patient feels really personal, but you know what? Cancer’s personal, and these treatments are personal, and you need to show them that you’re here with them, that you’re here for the journey. So, one of the ways that I start unpacking this with patients is in my initial assessment, I’ll ask something along the lines of, “I think that mental health and spiritual health is really important. Is there anything you can tell me about yourself that will help me support you in these areas?” And even if they don’t tell you right away and they need to get to know you a little better, you’ve opened a door. And that’s the important piece.
I took care of a young woman with breast cancer who had a young child and a husband and a home. She was a nurse, just a lot going on. And there was a day she was really down, and we got to talk about her mental health, her emotional health. And I got to say, “It’s okay if your kid watches TV while you take a nap. It’s okay if your husband has to cook dinner.” And just being able to validate her feelings and her emotions, give her permission to let go of this guilt of responsibility was amazing. And you could just see the weight lift off her shoulders. And that’s the beauty of being a nurse. These patients are going to share with you things that they won’t share with anybody else, and you need to honor that relationship and foster that relationship.
As you identify the needs of your patients, remember your team. Utilize your team. Multi-disciplinary. You’ve got palliative care, you’ve got social work, you’ve got nutritional consults. The list goes on and on. As you recognize needs, identify them quickly and just know you don’t have to carry the responsibility alone. That’s why you’ve got your team behind you. Just get the information to the right place so the patient can be the best taken care of that they possibly can be. And just remember that as the patient expresses wishes to you, do everything you can to make their wishes come true in their health care. I’m really proud of you for entering the world of oncology. That’s exciting. You’re going to do great. Hang in there. I hope you’ve found this information useful, and I just know you’re going to do wonderful. Good luck.
Lauren Gatta, RN, OCN, Outpatient Infusion Charge Nurse
Lauren Gatta, RN, OCN is the outpatient infusion charge nurse for AdventHealth Cancer Services in Asheville, North Carolina with over 8 years of experience. Lauren has strong leadership skills with an innovative focus on team planning and growth. She is a loyal and collaborative team player. She is self-motivated toward professional growth and continuing education with a passion for oncology. She is currently responsible for assisting the Clinical Nurse Manager in day-to-day operations, including providing direction to the clinical team, ensuring patient safety, and building interdisciplinary relationships with trust among colleagues. She has developed and implemented process improvements, mentored, and led the nursing team during difficult transitions, and furnished professional oncology nursing care to patients per national standards.