Being Well

Caring for the Oncology Nurse: What Hospitals Can Do

Your oncology nurse can be your comforter, cheerleader and truth teller throughout treatment. Hospitals can find ways to support their nurses and offer them emotional support.

Oncology nurses have one of the toughest jobs in healthcare. A study published in Cancer Nurse determined that providing care for patients with cancer has a negative impact on the quality of life of oncology nurses, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that proves the oncology nurse has a high risk of caregiver burnout. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, nurses at the beginning of their career are more susceptible to this distress, so combating this is important for hospitals and nurses themselves.

Oncology nurses are an important part of cancer diagnosis and treatment, often giving more than just care to their patients. The oncology nurse becomes the cheerleader, the expert, the reassuring friend and the truth teller to patients throughout the course of their time with cancer. A nurse without coping skills and a supportive work environment, however, can end up as just plain exhausted, mentally and physically. Top quality hospitals and cancer treatment clinics are finding ways, such as these below, to bring a bit of sunshine and support to the nurses that bring so much love and expertise to patients.

Someone to Talk to

Hospitals often already have a chaplain on staff to assist with patient care. Leveraging this position to give support to oncology nursing staff can offer an outlet for debriefing difficult days, such as when a favorite patient dies or takes a turn for the worse, and for sharing the joyful times as well. It can also be valuable for the chaplain to lead monthly or quarterly memorial services for patients who have passed away.

Clinics and hospitals can also offer staff support groups where participants can talk about—and listen to—the tough parts of their jobs with people who truly understand. Nurses should also take supportive conversation into their own hands, finding a network of friends or peers who are willing to listen about the good and bad days at work.

Something to Do Outside of Work

Beyond offering outlets for supportive conversation, hospitals and clinics can encourage nurses to find a hobby outside of work. Administration can offer gift cards or discount codes for local hobby stores or gyms or even host a staff wellness fair with local vendors in attendance. If their current work environment doesn’t offer leisure education, nurses can commit to finding a healthy hobby that relieves stress such as running, yoga or hiking.

Something to Feel Good About

Feeling appreciated and valued can improve an employee’s mood, especially in a hospital when things get serious quickly. Hospitals should make nurses feel valued and give them an environment that they want to come to every day for work. Administrators passing out ice cream or a surprise pizza delivery for those working the night shift goes a long way when it comes to work engagement and patient care. Teams should celebrate the big and small victories together with patients, including posting thank you notes from families or having a special ceremony when someone completes chemotherapy. Nurses can take this aspect of their own mental health into their own hands by starting a victory or gratitude journal, literally counting and listing the good things that happen on a daily basis.

Good oncology nurses are invaluable to patients and families, and they should be taken care of in their workplaces. Hospitals and clinics that are committed to their nurses have staff members who give the best care to patients.

Spiritual support is available for patients, caregivers and hospital staff at UVA Cancer Center.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress