Kate B. Hubbard, MSN, RN, OCN®, NPD-BC®, shares important resources and tips for new oncology nurses. Kate is an oncology nurse educator with beyond Oncology living in Asheville, NC.
As a nurse educator, I’m asked often by new oncology nurses where to start when learning about oncology. Today, I’d like to share one of my top Pearls for Practice, or tips for new oncology nurses, whether you’re a new graduate nurse, or an experienced nurse new to our specialty. My pearl is to know your oncology resources. Oncology is a complex and ever-changing specialty, and no nurse is expected to know all the answers. What you should know though, is how to find the answers. I show nurses in the chemotherapy classes that I teach how to find great resources. Thankfully, many of the answers are right at your fingertips as they are free on the internet.
One great place to start is to read oncology publications that are written for patients. By reading what patients are reading, you’ll learn different types of cancer; different treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy and radiation; and their side effects. These are written in simple language for patients, and it’s a great starting point for a new nurse. The National Cancer Institute, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, both have great patient publications on their website. My personal favorite is from the National Cancer Institute called Chemotherapy and You, because it very simply explains chemotherapy side effects. NCI also has Radiation and You, which is helpful for understanding radiation side effects, as well as eating hints, which is great for any patient going through cancer treatment.
Next, it’s essential for nurses to know oncology clinical guidelines. Clinical guidelines are evidence-based and they direct the practice of oncology healthcare professionals. Guidelines exist for many different areas of oncology. For example, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network publishes clinical guidelines to help providers make treatment decisions by cancer type. There are guidelines for radiation oncology as well as stem cell transplant.
As I teach chemotherapy and immunotherapy administration to new nurses, my go-to guidelines are the Oncology Nursing Society’s Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy Guidelines. Because it answers many of my clinical questions about IV sites, how to administer drugs, and responding to infusion reactions.
While it may be a while before you’re ready to take the oncology certification exam, I would still recommend picking up the textbook for the exam called the Core Curriculum of Oncology Nursing. This resource covers all the fundamental oncology nursing topics and is a great resource for you now as a new nurse. But it’s also great when you’re ready to take the OCN exam.
Lastly, it’s important to know your institution’s policies and procedures. Are these kept in an online database or in a binder on your unit? How does your organization notify nurses when policies and procedures change? Find and review your institution’s policies and procedures and review them often. It’s going to take a while for you to learn oncology, so be patient with yourself. But knowing your resources is important as an oncology nurse. Experienced nurses and preceptors are amazing resources, but it’s always important to ensure that you know where to find that information for yourself. Although it may take you a little extra time to stop and look up the answer, taking time for patient safety is always time well spent.