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Editor's note: This post originally published on March 14, 2014.
The day you enter the cancer center as a patient with cancer or a family member of the patient starting treatment, one of the first people you will meet is your oncology nurse. This relationship is one where the trust needs to form almost immediately.
From the patient's perspective, there is a flood of emotions and fear going through their mind, and the nurse will try to break down those barriers and make that person or family feel as comfortable as possible.
Achieving a common goal through teamwork
Teamwork often is defined as a cooperative effort of a group of people to achieve a common goal. The oncology nurse and patient with cancer relationship involves working together to get through chemotherapy treatments and beyond while collaborating closely with the physician. The patient wants to feel comfortable, understand what will happen, learn about the chemotherapy drugs, manage side effects and understand how this treatment will impact their lives.
From the moment the nurse and patient meet, the nurse begins to focus on doing all these things well. The nurse wants to build that relationship to be a resource to the patient, helping with education and support throughout this journey. This newly formed relationship is one where teamwork is essential from that first meeting.
Oncology nursing as a specialty
What training goes into becoming an oncology nurse? Oncology nurses are licensed registered nurses who obtain certification in chemotherapy and biotherapy courses, and undergo orientation within that specialty, sometimes for up to a year. Some oncology nurses obtain national certification in adult or pediatric oncology nursing. This certification validates a person's specialized knowledge in cancer nursing and may or may not be a requirement to work in a cancer center.
When I was in nurse's training, I saw many different specialties of nursing. But in this area of nursing, I noticed something extraordinary. The oncology nurses were great at working together — I was drawn to their teamwork mentality. They also work closely with staff from several other specialty departments. The resources and collaboration among this multispecialty team allow us to provide optimal care to cancer patients.
I cannot tell you how often people ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them I am an oncology nurse. The typical response I receive is, "That takes such a special person to do that." This is a wonderful compliment. However, I feel like I am the one that is blessed. It is a gift to be able to help another person during a difficult time, even if it is simply providing laughter to brighten someone's day, explaining a drug so that it is better understood or holding a patient's hand for comfort. Oncology patients have taught me what it is to have true strength.
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By Kathryn Sullivan, R.N.