Celebrating the Nurses on the Cancer Journey
Nurses are an important part of any patient’s healthcare team. They care for people in many different settings and specialties. Some nurses, such as case managers, work behind the scenes and may never meet patients even though they are working to coordinate their hospital discharge. Most nurses take care of patients in person, whether in the hospital or outpatient center or sometimes in the patient’s home. Some nurses work with patients mainly by phone. In most settings, nurses spend more time with patients than doctors.
Nurses perform several job functions that help people get better, reach and maintain health goals, and reduce the chance of getting complications. Nurses teach patients self-care skills such as how to prevent problems after surgery, how to take new medications, and when to call the doctor. They monitor their patients’ health status and help manage medical problems. Nurses work in collaboration with doctors and the rest of the healthcare team to create a plan of care that addresses all of the patient’s needs. Their compassionate care helps to comfort and support patients during some of the most challenging times of their lives. Nurses are also advocates and are often the patient’s voice when they are too weak or scared to speak.
There are many types of nurses that care for patients along their cancer journey. Some of these nurses are oncology nurses who specialize in the care of patients with cancer. Other nurses specialize in related areas like GI/Endoscopy, critical care, and surgery. There are several types of oncology nurses that patients may encounter either in and/or out of the hospital. Oncology nurses may be staff nurses or may have leadership roles like managers, charge nurses, or educators. They may work with children or adults. Many oncology nurses are certified in oncology care, no matter which role they play. Here is a list of some of the types of oncology nurses.
- Inpatient Nurses specialize in taking care of hospitalized cancer patients, sometimes on a dedicated oncology unit. These nurses are with patients 24/7 and perform many different types of skills. In addition to routine medical-surgical nursing care, these nurses are trained to recognize and manage problems related to cancer and cancer treatment. Many oncology nurses are also certified to give chemotherapy.
- Office or Ambulatory Nurses work in outpatient settings like medical offices and outpatient cancer centers. These nurses educate patients, coordinate care and may be involved in clinical trials. They may also administer drugs and IV fluids, draw blood and help the healthcare providers with procedures.
- Infusion Nurses work in infusion centers in the hospital or outpatient setting. They administer chemotherapy drugs, educate patients about the drugs and monitor for side effects. Patients getting chemotherapy usually form a close bond with their infusion nurses.
- Nurse Navigators are nurses who help guide patients throughout their cancer care journey. They are a constant point of contact and provide ongoing emotional support for patients and families. Nurse Navigators help patients understand their disease process and treatment options. They also help decrease barriers to care by connecting patients with community resources.
- Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) are nurses with an advanced nursing degree such as Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS). They work independently but closely with doctors to manage the care of patients. They see patients in the hospital and/or in a medical office. Nurse Practitioners and Clinical Nurse Specialists (with prescriptive authority) can diagnose conditions, manage symptoms and prescribe medications, diagnostic tests and treatment. Both of these types of APNs may also work in education, research and/or supervisor roles.
May is Oncology Nursing Month, a time designated to celebrate all of the kinds of oncology nurses and their dedication to cancer patients. May 6-12 is National Nurses Week which celebrates all nurses across the nation.