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A Message to New Oncology Nurses

By Sandy Balentine, MSN, RN,OCN, MBA


November 22, 2016
Nurse-and-Patient-Holding-Handssmall

Although it’s been many years since I was a “new oncology nurse,” I still remember those first few days as a new graduate nurse.

Nurses touch people’s lives in many ways. They usually spend more time with the oncology patient than the patient’s physician or any other professional caregiver, and can develop a very intimate bond with their patients. Patients and families will remember their nurses for the care they provide during a very difficult time of the patient’s life. The public has a high level of respect and trust in the nursing profession. As a new oncology nurse, you are entering one of the most rewarding professions in the world in one of the most challenging specialties in healthcare.

Having completed your training, as a new nurse you are now responsible for everything you do. You try to do everything the right way, just as your clinical instructor taught you, only to find out that the oncology area in which you are working operates a little differently from the way that you learned to do things in nursing school. This sometimes causes your mind (and your stomach) to do a somersault.

A number of stressors make the job of nursing for cancer patients one of the most challenging— as well as rewarding—of all fields. With that in mind, here are some realities to consider so that you can be prepared and manage the stresses that come with this noble profession—especially when you are a new graduate.

Coping with the Challenges of Your New Role

How will you handle some of the stressors of your work environment—fulfilling the high-pressure job demands of nursing, floating to other nursing units, and struggling with the work load, while adjusting to a new role? Here are some tips to help you adjust to your new reality:

  • Build relationships with your colleagues.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions. It is okay to let people know that you do not have all the answers. Nursing is a lifelong learning profession.
  • Know your limitations. Don’t be afraid to express them, in a professional manner, if you feel uncomfortable when asked to do something.
  • Soak up information as much as you can—watch and listen—and you will learn so much more than you learned in school.
  • If your hospital doesn’t assign one, find a personal mentor to be your support person for the first year. You will need someone to talk to about your first days in nursing.
  • Take the time to do things right the first time, even if you think there is no time. Chances are, you won’t have to do it over.
  • Develop good organizational skills.
  • Do not complain about something unless you have a solution. Simply put: be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.
  • Always have integrity—you will gain the trust and respect of everyone you come in contact with.
  • Listen to your patients and their families; they know their bodies better than you do.

A Few Words of Advice . . .

So what advice do I have to share with upcoming new graduate nurses?  First, believe in yourself, it is the key to having self-confidence in what you do. Second, everyone has different learning patterns. Know your learning style and seek resources to complement how you learn best. And one last piece of advice: don’t let anyone make you feel discouraged.  As a new nurse, it can be easy to feel discouraged. You are working with other nurses who have more experience than you. You may sometimes feel uncomfortable when talking to a physician about a situation and don’t want to appear as “new.” A patient might even question your ability because they can sense that you are nervous. But always remember that you have been trained for this, and you have others to support you. You care about others and that is why you joined this profession.

Nurse to Nurse Support

We “seasoned” oncology nurses also have a responsibility to the new nurse. We must recognize the difficult transition that a new nurse has to make. Nurse orientation programs need to be personalized to nurses’ individual training and development needs. Such customized development to meet new nurses’ needs creates engaged employees. They will be working with cancer patients who have very specialized needs.  So in addition to teaching our new nurses about these special needs, we must also provide the support they need in their new role. Nurse residency programs are the best programs to help a new nurse through the challenges of their first year of practice. The best mentoring programs guide new nurses through career progression and show them how to be good nurses.

Leadership Training

You also may have heard the saying: “Nurses don’t leave organizations; they leave managers”; thus, leadership training is essential. Investing in leadership training benefits the entire organization. An organization’s leadership must foster a healthy work environment and set clear expectations. They must pay attention to staff’s professional development. The best leaders set realistic expectations, and inspire their nurses through their example.  They coach and nurture new graduates and create a patient care environment to support their staff.

Encourage new nurses to become involved with committees and councils that affect their practice. This can not only help them to feel more a part of their nursing environment, but also encourages them to have a voice in their organization.

Caring and Compassion

The Chief Nursing Officer at The Valley Hospital had a message for our nursing staff recently: Nursing has its roots in caring, and equally important for nurses is their ability to be compassionate with patients, and to use themselves as a therapeutic vehicle for healing.  Nurses’ compassion and their empathy is really just as important as their technical skills. And it is that relationship between the patient and the nurse that really brings healing to the patient. This message should also hopefully touch the hearts of new graduate nurses. Remember why you decided to join this profession. You will make such a difference in the lives of the patients you touch!


ACCCBuzz contributing blogger Sandy Balentine, MSN, RN, OCN, MBA, is the Director of Clinical Oncology at ACCC Member Program, The Valley Hospital. Her article for Oncology Issues (May/June 2016) describes the development of “The Oncology Nursing Fellowship Program” at her institution.

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