Olympic Event: Oncology Nursing

I think sometimes we think of technology as just machines and equipment. But, in reality, technology is science.

While watching the Summer Olympics I’ve noticed that many of the side stories have been about the latest technology that has allowed the athletes to be lighter, faster, and better than ever at their designated events. From training equipment to the ways the pools are mad to the new materials for clothing we continue to get more sophisticated in how we can make improvements in order to get times and scores beyond what we would have imagined ten years ago.

This got me thinking about how things have changed in oncology and oncology nursing in the past several years to help improve treatment, toxicity management, and ultimately patient outcomes. I’ve been an oncology nurse for 17 years and, needless to say, things have changed tremendously over the years. I think sometimes we think of technology as just machines and equipment. But, in reality, technology is science.

The science it takes to make new medications and new formulations of pharmaceuticals that are more and more specific to the type of cancer cell that we are targeting. It’s the science that it takes to discover the supportive medications that we now have so that a patient doesn’t suffer from such severe nausea and vomiting that the cancer treatment is almost worse than the cancer itself. It’s the science that helps us design prescribing and administration programs to ensure the highest safety for patients and providers. It’s the science that develops a bed that changes pressure points with the patient’s movements so as to decrease the chance of pressure ulcers.

Things have come so far and patient’s and patient families can and do expect better outcomes and an overall better experience through their cancer journey. I think of all the advances that are in place in the state of the art hospital in which I work. Patients have access to the internet on the 42” flat screen televisions in their private rooms. They can keep in touch with friends and families, updating them on the progress of their treatment via email from their own accounts or those available from the hospital. They can access reputable cancer sites via a simple link that is set up. They are able to get information on their disease, treatment, diagnostic tests, diet, exercise and a variety of other topics at the touch of a finger. They can order food to be delivered when they are ready to eat, they can easily access housekeeping to clean the room or maintenance to make the room warmer or cooler. No longer do nurses and nurse assistants have to search for the equipment they need every day to monitor patient vital signs, administer oxygen or provide suction. All of that is located at the bedside on equipment with the highest of accuracy. The beds adjust to a patient’s weight, alarm the nurse if a patient at risk is attempting to get out of bed, and tilt to assist the care providers in turning a patient. When a patient puts on their nurse call light, the nurse is called directly on their telephone thus decreasing the amount of time it takes to meet the patient’s need.

So with all of the science, with all of the technology, is it better for patients, is it better for care givers and is that what really makes it better. I concede that the advances we have made in the science of medicine and nursing have improved outcomes for patients and allowed nurses to provide a higher level of care. But I also will always believe that it’s the art of medicine and nursing that a patient or family member remembers when recounting the cancer journey. Maybe the science allows nurses to do more in a shorter period of time and thus allows them the time to hold your patient’s hand, talk to them about their fears, find out about their family, answer their questions, and simply be there. I will always fight for the stance that oncology nurses are scientists in that they base their interventions on evidence and science. But I will also always know it is the art of nursing that keeps me loving what I do and wanting to do it everyday. I can hook up the telemetry box to my patient and monitor their cardiac status. But more importantly I can touch them, talk to them, and take the time to find out what is in their heart that can’t be seen on the monitor.

So, just like in the Olympics where there continues to be a search for more efficient ways to help the athletes reach their ultimate goals, we continue to search for more efficient ways to help our patients reach their ultimate goals. But, again just like the Olympians, the science is a wonderful addition, but it is the heart of the athlete that makes them a winner, in oncology nursing it is the heart of the patient, the heart of the nurse, the heart of the journey that allows the goals to be met, no matter what those goals might be.