Oncology Nursing Month: Educating Students to Lead Every Step of the Way

We’ve all seen the Facebook or YouTube video of a person who has just completed cancer treatment and is overcome with joy, ringing the bell and sounding the alarm that treatment is done. What often moves us, in addition to the patient’s celebration, are the joyful and sometimes tearful faces of the oncology nurses.

Oncology nurses are at the forefront of cancer care every step of the way – in explaining the diagnosis, administering treatments, managing side effects, supporting patients and their families, rejoicing during triumphs and offering words of comfort.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it is extremely rare these days to meet someone who hasn’t personally been touched by cancer. The oncology specialty focusing on educating advanced practice nurses to care for individuals with cancer has been a part of the Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) curriculum since the 1980s.

“During the late '80s former Dean Rachel Booth developed new curriculum for the School’s master’s program based on a national market study that determined where MSN-prepared nurses needed to be in the next five to ten years,” said Sue Schneider, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, associate professor and faculty lead for the graduate oncology specialty at DUSON. “Based on the results of the market study, she refocused the master’s program and offered three new specialties, with oncology being one of them.”

Interwoven within the new specialty was an emphasis on client systems, adaption, technology, ethics, role development and inquiry and research. Fast-forward more than 30 years and the School of Nursing is even more supportive of and innovative in oncology nursing.

The oncology specialty has up to 15 graduates a year with more than 150 nurse practitioners practicing throughout the country. Students learn concepts of cancer prevention, cancer epidemiology/pathophysiology, disease treatment, symptom management, palliative care and survivorship – everything to help improve the quality of care for oncology patients.

Faculty and alumni keep their fingers on the pulse of oncology care by becoming leaders in the field: Schneider recently assumed the Presidential role for the Oncology Nursing Society; Donald “Chip” Bailey, Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor at DUSON, serves on the board of directors for the Oncology Nursing Society; Kathryn Trotter, DNP, CNM, FNP-C, FAANP, assistant professor, was selected as the recipient of the 2016 Oncology Nursing Society Excellence in Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Award for her contributions to the oncology nursing profession; and alumni and former professor Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, serves as the chief executive officer of the Oncology Nursing Society.

“The impact one oncology nurse can make on the lives of patients and their family is inspiring,” Schneider said. “It’s important that we are providing our students with the knowledge and skill set through education, clinical practice, research and leadership that will help them in providing care to their patients every step of the way.”

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