Inside this issue: Radiation Therapy (a joint issue with ESTRO) and EONS at ECCO 2017

The needs of a new generation of cancer nurses

During the EONS Session on Day 1, two young cancer nurses, Sara Torcato Parreira, from Portugal, and Merel van Klinken, from the Netherlands, spoke about the needs of a new generation cancer nurses – the ‘millenials’.

Sara Torcato Parreira (left) and Merel van Klinken (right)

Sara Torcato Parreira (left) and Merel van Klinken (right)

EONS and its national societies have been expressing some concerns about this new generation of cancer nurses. It seems that young cancer nurses (YCN) are less likely to belong to membership organisations and that they don’t want to be involved in their national society. In order to better understand this, as well as the needs, challenges and motivations of YCNs, a workshop was held in Athens, in 2015. Five YCNs attended this workshop, from five different European countries, and they were all under 30 (EONS magazine covered this in the Spring 2016 publication).

The workshop in Athens. EONS is working to help young cancer nurses achieve their full potential.

A workshop was also held in Portugal. EONS is working to help young cancer nurses achieve their full potential

When we talk about a ‘YCN’, we are referring to someone born after the 1980s, therefore, belonging to Generation Y, also known as ‘millennials’. Our presentation was about this new generation and their specific career needs. We spoke about how there are four generations working together these days, which is a challenge not only for employers but also for organisations/societies, like EONS. Depending on their generation, people have different formative experiences and attitudes towards their career, so employers and organisations have to be able to address the needs and preferences of many people. For example, people from Generation Y are recognised as “digital entrepreneurs” so they would prefer to work with an organisation that is right up to date with technology. They are also ambitious, with high career expectations, but they need mentorship and reassurance. 

Passion and perseverance

Our presentation also focused on the needs of this new generation of cancer nurses in our respective countries. In Portugal, as well as in the Netherlands, there is a shortage of general and of specialised nurses. One cause might be the ability of millennials to switch jobs when their needs aren’t met. They are ambitious, but not loyal to an organisation. This causes great problems, including migration.

In the Netherlands, the healthcare system is very good. Especially when compared with Portugal. However, the shortage of nurses weighs heavy on the nurses that are on the wards. The schedules are difficult to maintain and work-life balance changes. Another huge worry is that the shortage has an effect on the quality of care. YCNs in the Netherlands want to care for patients, want to have time and attention for them without drowning in checklists and standardised care. They want to keep the human aspect alive in a healthcare system that is becoming more and more digitalised. They also need (in the Netherlands) the opportunity to perform nursing research. They want to legitimise why they do something in a certain way and they want to provide optimal care for patients receiving new and complex treatments. Florence Nightingale was one of the founders of evidence-based nursing in her day, but there’s a whole new need for it now. In the Netherlands, nurses also need to be more proud of themselves and of their profession. Nurses can tend to be a bit submissive, but they need to let their voices be heard. Nursing in the Netherlands also needs nurses with passion and perseverance, in order to become leaders in their clinical practice.

Sara Parreira with a patient

Sara Parreira with a patient

Unmet expectations

In Portugal, the economic crisis had a huge impact on nursing: there is no career progression, the salaries were reduced and the public health system was forbidden to hire more health professionals, including nurses. This has led to a higher workload, compromising the quality of care and the work-life balance of nurses. In addition, to become a specialist nurse (which is optional), nurses have to spend their own time and money, while they are working; and they can get their specialisation, for example as cancer nurses, but they will earn the same as general nurses (while there is no career progression). Due to that, it was being said that some of the younger nurses feel that their expectations are not met and they lack will and motivation. To check this, in December 2016, the Portuguese national society held its first YCN workshop. The ones who attended said that the main needs and difficulties faced by Portuguese YCNs were:

  1. cancer nursing not being recognised as a specialisation by the Portuguese Government
  2. due to the lack of nurses, the younger ones keep changing places (they can easily spend a few months in one place and suddenly get transferred to another);
  3. to know where to search for reliable information (in English and Portuguese, because of the language barrier)
  4. to manage the emotional stress of dealing with cancer patients
  5. in some situations, to get support from chief-nurses and from older nurses (some of them can feel reluctant about YCNs’ questions and proactivity, or they have so much work that they can’t assure proper mentorship.

Furthermore, although Portuguese YCNs consider that the national society has been doing good work, it was said that there are still cancer nurses who aren’t aware of the work done by the national society, or by EONS – mainly the ones working in the countryside and on wards. It was agreed that more needs to be done to attract and inform such nurses: “Social media isn’t enough: we need to have ambassadors.”

Merel with a patient

Merel with a patient

Support and mutual respect

In spite of these difficulties, Portuguese nurses still try to care for patients in the best way possible, and the younger ones are taught to do so; and there are several YCNs that really like what they do and who understand that the future of cancer nursing relies on them.

So, whether we are talking about the Netherlands or about Portugal, the truth is that some needs surpass all generations, like wanting to provide the best patient care, while others are much driven by culture, society and even economy. This new generation of cancer nurses has some specific needs, but as long as we all work together, supporting and respecting each other, we will be able to continue to raise the value of cancer nursing.