Recruitment Strategies for Nursing Students to Care for Patients With GVHD

By Elaine S. DeMeyer, RN, MSN, AOCN®, BMTCN® - March 29, 2023

The stem cell transplant (SCT) workforce needs more nurses. Health care is experiencing “the great resignation”—an alarming 1 in 4 workers resigned in 2021. This rate is likely higher for specialized nurses like those in SCT. Leaders rationally suspect that professionals caring for allogeneic transplant patients experiencing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) or needing critical care services are at a high risk for compassion fatigue, moral distress, and burnout, leading to resignation. Recruiting nursing students is one strategy to assist with building the SCT workforce.

Scope of the SCT Workforce Problem

In 2012, the National Marrow Donor Program® and the American Society of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (now called the American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy) partnered to identify complex issues affecting SCT. As a result, they developed the Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation in 2020: A System Capacity Initiative to better understand the existing personnel and infrastructure in the United States. Common themes among the working groups for recruitment and retention were:

  • Expose students to SCT earlier in their careers,
  • Create shadowing/clinical rotation opportunities in SCT,
  • Improve training and education resources,
  • Address dissatisfaction with work/life balance, compassion fatigue, and moral/ethical distress,
  • Identify professional success stories,
  • Provide mentoring/coaching,
  • Improve work environment recognition,
  • Promote professional development.

Recruiting and retaining new and seasoned oncology nurses is a high priority for SCT care.

Nursing Recruitment Strategies for Oncology and SCT Care

Numerous organizations are focusing on various strategies to expose nursing students to oncology and SCT care to prepare the future of the nursing workforce. Below are 4 strategy examples undertaken by specific organizations.

  1. The Sarah Cannon Transplant and Cellular Therapy Network (SCTCTN) Curriculum. In 2017, the Sarah Cannon Blood Cancer Network, now named the SCTCTN, commenced the development of high-quality CE-certified, on-demand, interactive, web-based education modules for nurses caring for patients with blood cancer and those receiving SCT and immune effector cell therapy. Short-term outcomes measurements assess current practice and intent to change practice immediately upon completing the modules. Once finished, the Sarah Cannon Oncology Nursing Essentials Curriculum (Sarah Cannon ONE or SCONE) will create the roadmap for graduates and nurses new to SCT to learn about caring for patients with blood cancer, including those with acute and chronic GVHD.
  2. Galen College of Nursing Oncology Elective. In addition to developing an SCT nursing curriculum, HCA Healthcare and Sarah Cannon partnered with Galen College of Nursing—with its 17 physical locations across the United States and 1 online program—to offer an oncology elective course. The course is available to students interested in oncology care in Galen College’s undergraduate bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. Titled “The Foundations of Oncology Nursing Practice,” this undergraduate course provides content and skills necessary to care for patients with various solid tumors, blood cancers, and oncologic emergencies.
  3. Texas Christian University (TCU) Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences Center for Oncology Education & Research. TCU Nursing prepares undergraduate and graduate nurses with oncology nursing curricula and certification through its Oncology Emphasis track. The goal is to provide interdisciplinary, collaborative learning and research opportunities among university faculty, students, and community partners regarding cancer care and survivorship concerns. They have one of the most robust programs in the nation. Established authors, scholars, and nurse researchers host the annual Cow Town Oncology Nursing Symposium in Fort Worth, Texas. Hosts include Suzy Lockwood, PhD, MSN, RN, OCN®, FAAN, and Kathy A. Baker, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FCNS, FAAN.
  4. Dallas Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society (DONS) Board Positions. For years, the DONS chapter has partnered with the schools of nursing in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex to encourage nursing students to attend monthly meetings, social activities, and educational offerings. For example, in collaboration with Beyond Oncology, the chapter only charges $25 for students to attend the biannual comprehensive cancer course and the oncology nursing certification course. For years, this mega chapter has had a student nursing board position to better understand the needs of nursing students and recruit more nurses into the field of oncology and SCT.

Recruiting and retaining SCT nurses remains challenging, especially considering the post-COVID state of health care. In addition to the educational strategies listed above, organizations may offer clinical nurse residency programs or fellowships for adult and pediatric inpatient SCT and cellular therapy units. Although it is common to have these programs for physicians, a comprehensive 12- to 18-month program for nurses remains unique.

The oncology community must continue to explore and expand innovative programs to recruit new nurses into SCT and oncology. In addition, strategies that improve a nurse’s understanding of patient-specific needs with GVHD must expand as the number of allogeneic SCT continues to increase.


2022 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report

The National Marrow Donor Program’s Symposium on Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation in 2020: A Health Care Resource and Infrastructure Assessment

Developing High-Quality, Interactive, Repeatable Web-Based Education Modules for Blood Cancer/Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Nurse Professional Development

Measuring the Effectiveness of CAR T-Cell Therapy Nursing Education

Academic Practice Partnership Produced New Oncology Elective for Nursing Students

Texas Christian University Center for Oncology Education & Research

Blood and Marrow Transplantation RN Fellowship: Design, Outcomes, and Facilitating Transition to Practice