EONS Magazine Winter/Spring 2019 edition

Interview – Oncology Nursing Society President Laura Fennimore

EONS Magazine Editor Helen Oswald interviews Laura about cancer nursing in the US and in Europe, what we can learn from the past, improve in the present and hope for in the future.

We were delighted that Laura Fennimore, President of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), USA, and a number of her colleagues were able to join us at EONS11 in Munich.

Laura Fennimore

Laura Fennimore

Laura, thank you for sharing with us at our conference.

How can nurses benefit from attending conferences like these?

Professional meetings and conferences like EONS and the ONS Congress provide nurses with information about how to take better care of patients including how to manage symptoms and teach patients about their cancer treatments. But enhanced knowledge is just the “tip of the iceberg”. Conferences provide tremendous networking opportunities to meet colleagues who share similar challenges in delivering quality cancer care. Profession meetings also provide an opportunity for nurses to highlight and disseminate their good work in quality improvement and cancer nursing research. 

Why is it important for cancer nurses to belong to organisations such as ours: EONS and ONS?

Membership in professional organisations like EONS and ONS is important because while every voice matters – collectively, our voices speak louder. It is important that the voice, input, and knowledge of nurses is included in decisions that are made about patient care, nursing practice, and in every aspect of our lives that impacts health.

What is most inspiring and what is most challenging in your role as President of ONS?

As President of ONS, I am most inspired by the nurses that I meet every day who share my passion and commitment for providing the best care for patients with cancer. I am challenged by the diversity of our specialty – which sounds like an oxymoron. Cancer care has become highly specialised – not only by cancer diagnosis and treatment modalities – like surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immuno/targeted therapies, but also by the diversity of settings where cancer care is delivered – from inpatient, clinics, home care, rehabilitation, and hospice care settings. Our roles have become increasingly specialised based upon our sub-specialisation. One of the challenges that I face as the ONS President is helping nurses to realise that ONS represents all nurses who care for patients with cancer and should be their first professional home.

What do you see as the main differences between the US and Europe where cancer care and cancer nursing is concerned? What can we learn from each other?

Cancer nurses in the US and Europe are much more alike than we are different. Our policies and procedures may vary, but the standards of care are the same and are based on the very best available evidence. We can learn about each other’s challenges and share solutions through our conferences and publications.

What are the challenges around developing nurse leadership at the current time as you see things – in the US, and more widely?

When nurses hear the term “leadership development”, they often think about skills and tools that will help them with their next promotion or move into classic leadership roles in health care or nursing administration. Some nurses look at their nurse managers and leaders today and are not necessarily drawn to these roles given the increasing demands and associated stress that appear to be linked to these positions. Narrow, role specific definitions of leadership development are not helpful. Nurses need to recognise that competencies like effective communication that fosters interprofessional collaboration, facilitating and sustaining change, and inspiring others are skills that are useful to nurses in every cancer nursing role at the bedside, chairside, in the board room, and at the policy making table.  Nurses in the US and across the world need to be open to enhancing their leadership skills through education, mentoring, and opportunities that will help them to become the leaders our healthcare systems need today and tomorrow. 

This conference is for oncologists and oncology nurses - how should their roles support each other? What are the different areas in which they can lead in the multi-professional team?

One of the best parts of being an oncology nurse is the time that we get to spend with people who are experiencing some of the most difficult days of their lives following diagnosis, treatment, or recurrence of cancer. We know our patients over long periods of time and have the privilege of learning about what matters most to them and how they cope with symptoms.  That unique perspective allows us to be active participants in the cancer care team. Oncologists rely on oncology nurses not only to deliver cancer treatments but to carefully observe and report the patient’s experience and to contribute to planning that will enhance the patient’s quality of life.

How do you see the role of nurses developing in the future, as resources are stretched but demand for care increases?

As a nursing student, I studied Dorothea Orem’s “Self-Care Theory”. I had no sense of how important that theory would be in my career as I learned about how nurses provide care that the individual would provide for themselves if they were physically, psychologically, and emotionally able to do so. Nurses will continue to be called upon to teach patients how to provide the best care for themselves – like managing oral cancer treatments and their symptoms, supporting caregivers to care for patients with more advanced cancer at home, and the providing palliative care support throughout the cancer care experience. Nurses will serve as care coordinators and help the patient and family to obtain resources that will allow the patient to manage what may become just one of multiple chronic illnesses to be controlled.

What are the most important qualities that a cancer nurse should develop now?

Curiosity, resilience, and courage are qualities that will serve cancer nurses throughout their careers. Curiosity to learn as much as they can about their patients, the impact of their disease and treatment, and how the best evidence about how we can help can be applied for each patient. Resilience will allow nurses to survive and thrive in healthcare environments where resources are thinly stretched as nurses respond to the physical and emotional demands of caring for patients with cancer. Finally, nurses must be courageous to speak up and for patients’ and nurses’ needs with our individual and collective voices.

How does this differ from when you started out and what/who inspired and helped you then?

I believe that these qualities were firmly engrained in me during my basic nursing education and early career experiences with nursing leaders that I respected and whose practice I wanted to model. I am grateful to faculty who shaped my curiosity to become a life-long learner; to nurses who taught me the value of caring for myself so that I could take care of others; and to inspired nurse leaders who challenged me to get involved in a professional organisation like ONS so that I could speak up for patients with cancer and the nurses that care for them.

Do you think the work and the profile of the cancer nurse will look very different in ten years’ time?

In the next ten years, we will see additional scientific findings about the cancer biology and how cancer will be treated based on molecular changes at the cellular level. Nurses will need an even greater understanding of cancer genetics and immunology to help patients to understand their therapies and manage their related symptom profiles over longer periods of time than previous cancer treatments.  Oncology nurses will need to help patients to manage cancer as a chronic disease along with other chronic illnesses that their patients may be experiencing. As the number of cancer survivors increase, nurses will need to help patients to manage long-term side effects of cancer treatment, maintain healthy lifestyles, and participate in ongoing cancer surveillance. And, nurses will need to continue to provide exemplary palliative care for people diagnosed with this serious and potentially life-limiting disease from the time of diagnosis through end-of-life care.

What would be your best piece of advice for a cancer nurse training now?

I would advise any nurse interested in caring for patients with cancer to join and get involved with the professional oncology nursing society in their country to gain access to the latest information about how cancer is detected, treated, and managed with nurse-driven, evidence-based symptom management protocols. I would encourage nurses to network with their peers in annual meetings like the EONS meeting or ONS Congress and share their research through scholarly presentations and publications.  Cancer nurses have much to share about how to provide quality cancer care.  A professional home like EONS or ONS is a great place to start!

Laura Fennimore (4th from right) with members of the EONS Board and others at EONS11.

Laura Fennimore (4th from right) with members of the EONS Board and others at EONS11.