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Oncology Nursing: Communication, Connection, Compassionate Care

The oncology nurses at Norris Cotton Cancer Center assume many roles throughout a patient’s cancer experience. They bring critical communication skills to the treatment team, and build caring relationships with patients throughout the course of their care.

Focus article photo

NCCC Oncology nurses Janet Stender (l) and Laurin Comeau (r) help patient Janice Maines with her chemotherapy treatment.

More than 230 oncology nurses care for patients at Norris Cotton Cancer (view a slideshow of oncology nurses at NCCC here). These professionals assume many roles throughout a patient's cancer experience, and are often the constant faces patients see throughout the course of treatment.

Oncology nurses assume many roles throughout a patient's cancer experience

"While cancer patients look to all their caregivers to address issues related to their wellbeing, nurses are usually involved in a patient's care over the entire course of their illness," said NCCC Director Mark Israel. "They take on aspects of cancer care that go far beyond actual medical issues, serving as a sounding board for personal challenges or marital and family issues, while working to deliver care, relieve pain, and minimize symptoms."

Oncology nurses take on many roles: as direct caregivers they monitor treatment in the clinic or for hospital patients; as educators, they provide information and support while counseling patients and their caregivers. Nurses administer specialty treatments in radiation, chemotherapy, and bone marrow transplants. They perform behind-the-scenes research and informatics functions; manage patients on clinical trials; and help with survivorship and palliative care issues.

Oncology nurses often serve as central point of team communication

Because of these many interacting roles, collaborative communication is essential, notes Susan Distasio, administrative director of Nursing at NCCC. The oncology nurses coordinate with patients, physicians, and the nurses who provide specialty treatments. And in current cancer care, where teams of specialists work together in treatment, the communication skills of the oncology nurse has become even more crucial. "Everyone on the team needs to communicate with each other, and often the nurses are the ones linking the various players," Distasio says. "They also bring in the small personal details "outside" the disease−a patient's concerns about a caregiver, logistical challenges, particular emotional stressors−that can help to make a patient more comfortable."

New clinic nurse position provides consistent personal face to cancer care

To respond to the many roles nurses play in cancer care, NCCC recently added clinic nurse positions to the outpatient oncology nursing staff. This newly created clinic role streamlines the treatment process while offering patients a personal, in-clinic contact to coordinate all aspects of their care.

When scheduling an appointment a patient now speaks with the clinic nurses on the phone and then meets with them on each subsequent treatment visit. Working in the clinic with providers, these experienced oncology nurses help patients with emotional issues, answer questions about medications, assist with insurance paperwork, and coordinate care with outside providers if needed. With this new system the treatment process flows more smoothly, and patients have a guide to help them through the logistical and emotional challenges of their cancer care.

Clinic Nurse Profiles
Megan Goodrich, RN, OCN, Clinic Nurse in GI Oncology

"I believe every patient deserves a nurse and to have time to talk. Many patients who come in are struggling with their diagnosis and it's so rewarding to see how each patient unfolds. They often have such a positive attitude, and are so thankful to be able to receive one more treatment."

Megan Goodrich came to the GI Oncology program with experience as an inpatient oncology nurse on One West and as an infusion suite nurse. In her new role as clinic nurse she can create time in the treatment schedule for patients to ask questions, or talk about issues that they may not have expressed in other situations. Because she sees patients on a regular schedule (every week or two), she is able to build ongoing relationships: they will ask about her 15-month-old daughter; she will ask about a son who was married in Japan.

Stacey Aldrich, RN, Clinic Nurse in GI Oncology

"I fell in love with oncology patients at NCCC during my college senior year internship. Now I see patients every two weeks for chemo treatments, but often treatment lasts longer—cancer is a chronic disease and requires chronic care management. They have such a positive attitude. I find it rewarding to try to make their care as comfortable as possible."

Before joining the GI Oncology team as clinic nurse, Stacey Aldrich had cared for oncology patients on One West for 16 years (the last 6 on the night shift). Working in the clinic during the day allows her to interact more closely with physicians and other nurses while focusing on a specific disease group, which she has found professionally satisfying. But it was patient care that first attracted her to oncology nursing, and in this new position she enjoys being able to establish ongoing relationships with patients who need long-term care.

May 06, 2013