Oncology and palliative nursing diploma launched in Windsor

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Windsor Star/Beatrice Fantoni

Not only is the disease and treatment complex, there are the social and psychological issues to deal with, Freeman-Gibb said. Medicine’s goal is to cure you, she said, but it’s not always possible, she said. “We’re not really good in North America with dying.”

Colette Clarke, a registered nurse and the manager of the oncology in-patient unit at Windsor Regional Hospital, said there seems to be more interest in cancer care among student nurses. Last year she had more requests for placements in oncology than any other area of nursing care, Clarke said.

“Many nurses choose oncology because of a personal experience,” Clarke said, referring to a cancer diagnosis in the family or a friend. “They feel a strong connection with patients and their families.”

The trouble is, not all nursing students will get hands-on cancer care experience in school, she said.

“We pretty much have to grow our own,” Clarke said, referring to how nurses will get training on the job.

Because NPs and RNs with advanced degrees can prescribe medication and order tests, they need to know even more about the cancer treatments and protocols than what they would be taught in nursing school, Freeman-Gibb said. The new diploma can help shave off months from the on-the-job learning nurses would do.

But oncology nursing is not all about dying patients and depressing work, Clarke said. While this type of nurse will need a lot of compassion to help patients and their families, it is a very active and complex type of work.

It’s not uncommon for a nurse to care for the same cancer patient more than once over a long span of time and form special bonds. Of course, the down side to that is oncology nurses can be deeply affected by a patient’s illness. In fact, Clarke marvels at her staff when they turn up for work each day. Emotional and physical burnout are not uncommon. “It’s amazing how much they stick with it,” she said.

Statistics from the College of Nurses of Ontario show that of 132,000 working nurses in the province, 53 nurse-practitioners and 2,441 registered nurses indicated cancer care as their primary area of practice. Another 33 nurse-practitioners and 1,865 registered nurses indicated palliative care as their primary area of work. About 130 registered practical nurses work primarily in cancer care and 991 work primarily in palliative care.

There are lots of single courses and learning tools out there for nurses, a diploma like this one is rare, Freeman-Gibb said.

This diploma program is geared to advanced-practice nurses who are working already and offers a one-year full-time and two-year part-time option. Much of the course work is online, Freeman-Gibb said, so nurses all over Canada can take the course. However, to encourage students to meet and make useful contacts, there are learning weeks and simulation days on campus. The nurses will also do a six-week placement at any hospital with a recognized cancer treatment program.

bfantoni@windsorstar.com or Twitter.com/bfantoni