Home News & Events News BLOG: A day in the life of an oncology nurse

May is Oncology Nursing Month...

And to celebrate the team of oncology nurses across our network of centres, Stephanie, one of our lead Systematic Anti-Cancer Therapy (SACT) nurses, shares a typical day for an oncology nurse at the Rutherford Cancer Centres, to give prospective nurses and patients a better idea of what oncology nurses do when delivering cancer treatment.

Across the four Rutherford Cancer Centres, we have an expert team of oncology nurses, each one playing a vital role in the cancer treatment process and the overall experience of our patients. Patients undergoing treatment at the Rutherford Cancer Centres will be cared for by a team of consultants and specialists, including oncology nurses. When a patient comes to one of the Rutherford Cancer Centres for treatment, an oncology nurse will be present throughout several aspects of their treatment journey. 

Oncology nurses are a pivotal part of every patient’s care team, undertaking one of the most important and rewarding roles within the oncology sector.

 

Stephanie SACT nurse

Stephanie - Lead SACT Nurse at Rutherford Cancer Centres North West.

What is an oncology nurse? 

First, it’s important to understand what an oncology nurse is. Stephanie said: “Oncology nurses are responsible for providing holistic care for both patients and families.” 

In essence, oncology nurses prepare patients for treatment, deliver their treatment, and provide support for patients and their families for the duration of their treatment pathway at the Rutherford Cancer Centres. 

What role does an oncology nurse play in the care of a patient?

No role is more important than another, as Stephanie explained: “I find we (oncology nurses) play a very important role within the patient’s care. We review blood work, assess patients are fit for treatment and signpost them to other sources of support when needed.” 

A patient undergoing treatment at the Rutherford Cancer Centres will be under the care of a specialised team, including oncology nurses. The team works together to ensure each patient feels supported and cared for on a personal level. Clinicians and nurses rely on each other to deliver optimal care that provides the very best outlook for the patient. 

What does a normal day for an oncology nurse look like?

Now we’ve established what an oncology nurse is and the role they play, we can look at what a typical day for an oncology nurse looks like. 

Pre-Treatment Blood Tests

"On a normal day, we would review a patient’s blood results before bringing them in for treatment," Stephanie explains.

Checking blood tests is an important factor in deciding whether or not a patient can go ahead with their planned treatment. Blood tests are taken between one and two days before treatment is scheduled. When the results are in, oncology nurses will look at the red blood cell, white blood cell, and platelet count. Other blood tests may also be taken to identify how well the liver and kidneys are working, and how effective the treatment is through tumour marking tests. 

SACT Pre-Assessment

“If the blood tests are okay, the patient will attend the centre for treatment," she said. "When at the centre, an oncology nurse will go through the Systematic Anti-Cancer Therapy (SACT) pre-assessment process by asking the patient if they have had any issues from their previous treatment following the UKONS (UK Oncology Nursing Society) assessment process.” 

A SACT pre-assessment is an important part of the treatment process. It involves observing the patient’s weight, symptoms (e.g. fever, nausea and pain), urine tests, regular medications that could impact their treatment, and their mental and emotional state. This allows oncology nurses to provide patients with information and resources to help them get through their treatment as best and as comfortable as they can. Depending on the type of treatment being administered, a patient may require a SACT pre-assessment before each treatment session. 

The UKONS assessment process is the next step after the SACT pre-assessment. Stephanie explains: “We use a tool called the UKONS assessment tool which uses a red, amber and green score that makes the decision on what we then do with the patient.” 

Results from the pre-SACT assessment will be taken into account, with physical symptoms dictating whether or not it is safe for a patient to continue to undergo treatment. If the results are green, treatment can go ahead. Amber may mean further tests are required, and red indicates that an urgent assessment is required. 

Pre-Medication 

“If there are no major concerns, we then proceed to treatment. We will cannulate the patient and give pre-medication if required”. 

Some cancer treatments – like chemotherapy – can have unpleasant side effects like nausea and lethargy. Oncology nurses aim to make the patient as comfortable as they can, and that means pre-medications are sometimes given before treatment. The aim of pre-medication is to offset potential side effects like hypersensitivity. 

Treatment 

Following the assessments and pre-medication (if required), treatment is then administered. There are several ways treatment can be administered. For example, chemotherapy can be administered intravenously in one of our state-of-the-art infusion suites. Immunotherapy can be given this way, too. Depending on the type of treatment, an oncology nurse or another specialist will administer it.

Post-Treatment

Oncology nurses do not finish their day at the treatment stage, as Stephanie says: “Once treatment is complete, the patient will be given their next appointment date and advised to call the on-call number for the centre if there are any issues relating to their treatment i.e. temperature, uncontrolled nausea/diarrhoea etc…” 

If a patient has any queries about their treatment, or if they experience any adverse side effects, they can call the 24-hour on-call number to seek advice and support from an oncology nurse – no matter what time of the day (or night) it is. 

oncology nurse team at the Rutherford

What is it like speaking to cancer patients every day?

“At times it can be difficult, but as trained nurses, we have specific courses available to us to help provide clear communication with patients and relatives. Sage and Thyme, provided by Macmillan Cancer Support, is a great course for this.”

At every stage of their day-to-day duties, oncology nurses speak to a range of patients at various stages of their cancer treatment journey. Each patient will have unique requirements and will cope with their diagnosis and treatment differently. Oncology nurses must be equipped to deal with every type of patient.

What are the most common questions asked by patients and their families?

“What are the side effects?" is a big question asked, and "how sick will I get?"

At the Rutherford Cancer Centres, we are extremely aware that patients with a cancer diagnosis might be scared and unsure about what happens next. Oncology nurses are often the patient's port of call to turn to for answers, especially where treatment is concerned. Oncology nurses are there for patients every step of the way and are best placed to point them in the direction of other members of the team/resources that may be able to better help. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an oncology nurse?

“I enjoy all parts of oncology nursing," Stephanie admits. "The most rewarding part is getting to see a patient ring the bell after treatment is complete!” As challenging as oncology nursing can be, there are moments of triumph that oncology nurses are privileged to experience alongside patients. 

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