Supporting and Empowering Young Oncology Nurses Academically, Clinically, and Professionally

TON - October 2022 Vol 15, No 5

During a special symposium at the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress 2022, a panel of experts identified some of the key challenges facing young oncology nurses and discussed strategies to better support and empower these professionals academically, clinically, and professionally.

Building Resilience

Nikolina Dodlek, MSN, CNS, DNPc, Clinical Nurse Specialist and Oncology Nurse, University Hospital Center, Osijek, Croatia; Teaching Assistant, Faculty of Medicine, Osijek; and Co-Chair, Young Cancer Network Nurses, European Oncology Nursing Society, stated that being a young oncology nurse can be satisfying but challenging. She identified issues such as burnout, fear of failure, and compassion fatigue as common obstacles that must be overcome.

However, according to recent research, oncology nurses exhibit excellent resilience and coping skills, Ms Dodlek noted, adding that oncology nurses need to learn how to cope with difficult situations. She suggested research fellowships that can be used to examine the needs of young oncology nurses and plan future activities. In addition, these young professionals should turn to team members in the workplace, managers, local and regional associations, and national societies for help in coping with work-related challenges.

It is also critical to address barriers to support, which may include lack of time, poor management, bullying in the workplace, fear, stress, a lack of understanding, and emotional trauma.

Building resilience may involve finding a healthy work/life balance, taking time for yourself, engaging in nurturing relationships, and addressing workplace burnout though direct implementation of successful, feasible, and effective resilience models, she said.

Providing Academic Support

“Oncology nurses have multiple responsibilities and standards, and these roles can lead to emotional, physical, social, and psychological problems,” said Remziye Semerci, RN, MSN, PhD, Department of Child Health and Disease Nursing, Koç University School of Nursing, Istanbul, Turkey.

Academic support remains critical for ensuring professional development, establishing and disseminating patient care standards, and improving communication with national and international organizations and societies.

Young oncology nurses need support academically to ensure the professional development of oncology nursing, improve the quality of nursing care, increase evidence-based practice, and produce studies with a high level of evidence.

“An academically proficient nurse can offer care across the cancer continuum, including prevention, early diagnosis, and different treatment modalities, as well as survivorship care and, eventually, end-of-life care, thus contributing to both a reduction of cancer burden and improvement in patient outcomes,” Dr Semerci said.

Nurses should not only be included in associations but should be given duties in those associations, she went on to say. Their participation in congresses, courses, and conferences should be encouraged, and they should take part in scientific activities.

Ensuring Career Progression

“Cancer care is an exciting area of nursing,” said Bethany Maynard, ANP, Macmillan Advanced Nurse Practitioner, University Hospital, Southampton, United Kingdom, and Vice Chair, Young Cancer Nursing Network, European Oncology Nursing Society, adding that it does come with barriers, including resistance to change.

“Nursing is a changing dynamic profession. Fight for what you want and don’t give up,” she advised. Changes include an evolution of cancer treatments, such as CAR T-cells, and resultant new opportunities and new roles.

Insights from Recent Studies

The symposium concluded with the reporting of results from studies assessing professional quality of life and support among nurses.

Patricia Hunt, RGN, MSc, Lecturer in Nursing, South East Technological University, Waterford, Ireland, reported findings from a mixed methods research design that examined relationships between quality of life, empathy, and emotional intelligence in cancer care professionals, and identified differences between nurses, radiation therapists, and oncologists. Survey data were collected from 122 oncology nurses, radiation therapists, and oncologists. Three measurement tools were used: ProQOL to measure professional quality of life (2010), Interpersonal Reactivity Index to measure empathy, and TEIQue to measure trait emotional intelligence.

The results showed interesting differences between the professions. For example, there was a significant difference in burnout scores across the 3 professions (P = .001), with nurses recording a lower level of burnout compared with radiation therapists and oncologists.

Furthermore, a significant difference was found in the TEIQue scores across the professions (P = .001), with nurses recording higher levels of self-control compared with radiation therapists and oncologists.

“High levels of emotional intelligence may be an important factor in professional quality of life,” Ms Hunt concluded. “There are professional variations in levels of burnout and self-control, which may be a result of the differences in the types of interactions professionals have with patients with cancer.”

Empathic concern may reach a point where it moves from being a positive to having a detrimental effect, she added. Personal distress resulting from empathic interactions may negatively impact professional quality of life, suggesting that cancer care professionals may need to focus more on the emotional responses of the patients rather than being “in their shoes.”

The effects of a WhatsApp group aimed at supporting nurses in an acute oncology/hematology setting during the COVID-19 pandemic were reported by Ròisín Lawless, RGN, Oncology Nursing Education Coordinator, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, Ireland. A survey of 45 oncology nurses found that the application-based support group was considered an acceptable form of communication by 100% of participants. In addition, 73% found it an effective mode of communication and 27% indicated it was somewhat effective. Approximately 98% of participants believed it informed practice and 65% accessed the group whenever new information was added. Two-thirds of participants liked to access most of the content posted and 18% said links to journal articles or lecture notes were the most helpful. The most useful content was considered to be that which related directly to changes in practice, systemic anticancer therapy regimen recaps, new systemic therapies, and management of side effects.

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