Radiation Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant Michelle Roach believes nurses practicing in the field deserve greater recognition for the valuable role they play in cancer treatment.
Michelle works in the Cancer Therapy Centre at the Liverpool Hospital in NSW where the Radiation Therapy Department treats up to 130 patients per day.
The first Radiation Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant appointed in the state in 2014, Michelle says the contribution of radiation oncology nurses lacks awareness across the community, and respect and recognition within the profession.
Michelle suggests the main reason behind the perception is that unlike chemotherapy nurses, radiation oncology nurses do not actually deliver radiation therapy directly.
Instead, the role largely entails supporting patients travelling through the cancer trajectory.
“What I love is when you see a patient on their first day of treatment and they’re scared because they have no idea what’s going to happen. Radiotherapy nurses can walk with that patient through the entirety of their treatment,” Michelle says.
“[The role involves] education to the patients and significant others on what to expect when they have radiation therapy. It is trying to empower the patient with the knowledge to participate in their care. Radiation therapy side effect management is a large part of our role. We’re a link for the patient – we advocate for the patients with the radiation therapists, doctors and allied healthcare staff.”
Michelle is continually championing the value of radiation therapy nurses and maintains there is a direct correlation between a patient’s compliance to their treatment demands and the culture and attitude displayed by positive and well-educated radiation therapy nurses.
“If you have a well-educated radiation therapy nurse who can form a bond with a patient and give that patient reliable information, that patient will develop a trust in that nurse.”
Michelle, who recently spoke at the 21st Cancer Nurses Society of Australia (CNSA) Annual Congress in Brisbane, is pushing to lift the standing of radiation oncology nursing so it is granted the same importance as all other aspects of cancer nursing.
Specifically, she hopes the potential introduction of competencies for radiation therapy nurses, similar to what chemotherapy nurses are currently encouraged to meet, might prove a significant step towards progress.
Michelle is currently working with Cancer Institute NSW to develop eviQ, a free resource of evidence-based, consensus driven cancer treatment protocols and information, to introduce competencies for radiotherapy nurses.
“It will provide radiation oncology nurses with the skills and knowledge to deliver competent care to the patient receiving radiation therapy,” she says.
“It will increase the value to other oncology nurses that radiation oncology is as important as others forms of oncology nursing.”
Previously, Michelle also introduced a Model of Care into the Radiotherapy Nursing department at Liverpool Hospital to ensure all patients receiving treatment were educated, supported and empowered in all decision-making.
“If patients are educated they try to seek out reliable information. If they are educated, they are more willing to look at self-care strategies and the importance of those strategies. If they’re empowered through that education they are more likely to ask questions.”
Michelle says the delivery and planning techniques for radiotherapy are constantly evolving due to technological advancements and nurses need to adapt and continually learn.
“In the old days if you were treating somebody for a head and neck cancer you’d be treating the whole neck. Advanced technology allows us to increase our precision in targeting the tumour and sparing vital structure around that tumour.”
Michelle described radiotherapy nursing as a rewarding career and encouraged all nurses to “give it a chance”.
“It really is about total patient care. It is the patient’s psychological state. It is their social situation. Do they live alone? How can we help the patient manage through treatment and beyond into their survivorship years.”