The vital contribution of oncology nurses to the radiation therapy team
Daniel Zips, Radiation Oncologist and Chair of the ESTRO Clinical Committee is based in Germany. Here he describes how oncology nurses have gained deep respect from the other disciplines in the multidisciplinary team in recent years
Radiation therapy is a mainstay of cancer treatment. Almost every second cancer patient receives radiotherapy throughout the course of his or her disease. The optimal cancer treatment is recommended by a multidisciplinary team involving other cancer specialists such as surgeons, medical oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and others. Once radiotherapy has been recommended the Department of Radiation Oncology takes over patient care which is, for a substantial proportion of patients, a significant time during their treatment. To ensure the highest quality of patient care and precise radiotherapy, an interdisciplinary team with different professions work very closely together within the radiation oncology team. This team involves radiation oncologists, medical physicists, oncology nurses and radiation therapists (RTTs).
Oncology nurses are indispensable team members
Interestingly there is large variation across Europe in the training schedule and also in the responsibility of oncology nurses within the interdisciplinary team. In some countries, oncology nurses are specialised in radiation technology and are responsible for the treatment delivery, which includes direct patient care, positioning and the actual application of the radiation treatment. In other countries, this responsibility is taken by radiation therapists. Under such circumstances, oncology nurses are specialised to provide care to radiation oncology patients – for example, when they receive chemotherapy during radiotherapy, or to provide a special service to patients to cope with side effects of radiotherapy, for example, inflammation of the skin within the radiation field. With this wide range of responsibilities within the radiation therapy team, it is quite obvious that oncology nurses are indispensable team members with a large responsibility for ensuring high quality patient care. Given the high responsibility and highly-valued, direct patient care, oncology nurses have gained deep respect from the other disciplines.
A high level of education and training
Moreover, nurses have developed their own role and understanding remarkably within recent years. It is not only knowledge and experience in medicine and nursing that is important; it also involves a high level of education and training in patient care, related to communication with and guidance of often highly vulnerable and frail patients. Patients often choose RTTs or oncology nurses over doctors to talk to about their disease, thoughts and fears. It is often observed that this communication done by oncology nurses and RTTs has a psychological and psycho-oncological component. In addition to the high responsibility in direct patient contact oncology, nurses and RTTs are increasingly playing a role in the scientific development of our discipline, namely in new radiotherapy treatments and in securing safety for all patients undergoing radiotherapy.
Daniel Zips, M.D., UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL TÜBINGEN, University Department of Radiation Oncology, CCC Tübingen-Stuttgart. Chair, Professor Radiation Oncology Director, CCC Tübingen-Stuttgart