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2020 Innovator Awards: Meeting the Demand for Oncology Nurses


July 20, 2020
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This blog is the fourth of an eight-post ACCCBuzz series highlighting the achievements of the 2020 ACCC Innovator Award WinnersYou can learn more about the innovations being recognized this year and the people who pioneered them by joining us at the ACCC 37th [Virtual] National Oncology Conference, September 14-18.

The nationwide shortage of nurses—particularly in oncology—has burdened community and academic cancer centers for years. Having too few nursing staff can indirectly impact the stress and job satisfaction of nurses, directly affecting patient care. 

Miami Cancer Institute in Florida opened in 2017 as an outpatient cancer center under Baptist Health South Florida, serving Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties. “We opened this huge building with all of our physicians, and we realized we were already behind on the number of nurses needed to properly care for our patients," explains Cathy Ollom, RN, MS, OCN, AOCNS, a former nurse and clinical educator at Miami Cancer Institute. 

The cancer institute took a step back to evaluate the issues and resolve the problem. “For any new program to be successful, you have to make sure that you're able to hire qualified nurses who are needed in order to deliver the safe, quality care necessary,” says Michele Ryder, MSN, MSHSA, RN, CENP, vice president, chief operating officer, and chief nursing officer at the cancer institute. 

Ryder and Marguerite Rowell, MSN, MBA, MSM/HM, ONC, SCRN, AVP, assistant vice president of nursing, had already had the experience of managing nurses in orthopedics and neuroscience. Because they found that sub-specialty nursing requires more training and resources, they believed that by establishing academies for nurses, they would better attain the knowledge and training they need to work in high-stress and highly specialized lines of nursing. They were right.  

Ryder and Rowell developed a new vision, roadmap, and budget to train nurses in oncology. Working with Ollom, they established an academy in 2018 dedicated to training experienced non-oncology nurses to work in Miami Cancer Institute. After the 12-week course, nurses can sit for an exam and become certified as oncology nurses. Rowell and Ryder also want to establish academies in advanced practice, clinical trials, and research and blood and marrow transplants. 

Becoming an oncology nurse requires experience, practice, and specific qualifications. Nurses must be able to safely care for their patients while administering chemotherapy and monitoring their hemodynamic stability. This often requires at least 12 months of training. By developing a dynamic 12-week intensive curriculum, Miami Cancer Institute can accelerate and capitalize on the education of experienced nurses to speed up their path to specializing in oncology. 

Before developing this curriculum, Ryder and Rowell assessed the current state of education for oncology nurses. Through a gap analysis, Ollom and her team identified the education that nurses in the academy already possess and compared it to what the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) require nurses to obtain before they can be certified in oncology. “We acknowledged all of the knowledge and skill that these nurses brought with them into the academy,” says Ollom. With a balance of didactic education, hands-on skill development, and mentorship, the 12-week course graduates at least eight oncology-specialized nurses annually, which fills the typical staffing gaps in the cancer institute. 

Ryder and Rowell credit the success of the oncology nursing academy with the clear vision that leadership and educators collaboratively developed and implemented. They will deliver an in-depth presentation about their oncology nursing academy at the session, “Onboarding Experienced Non-Oncology Nurses to Address Staffing Shortages,” at the ACCC 37th [Virtual] National Oncology Conference

Register for the conference to also learn about the accomplishments of the other 2020 ACCC Innovator Award winners on topics ranging from the creation of a 3D educational tool that reduces patient distress to the origins of an oncology residency program for physical therapists.

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