Cancer nursing education: An editorial comment


During a time of global nursing shortages, cancer nursing has been identified by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare1 and in the report Optimising Cancer Care in Australia2 as one of the specialties particularly affected by workforce deficits. A complex range of issues has contributed to the nursing shortage and include, but are not limited to, expanding career opportunities for women, an ageing nursing workforce with consequent family commitments, inadequate remuneration, unsociable hours, poor social status and a perceived lack of support and recognition for the work undertaken. At the same time the shift in the delivery of cancer care from inpatient to outpatient, and increasingly community-based services, has placed demands upon nurses (particularly those working in rural and remote areas) to be the providers of care for which they may have minimal or sub-optimal training. These factors have an obvious impact upon the provision of quality care to people with cancer.

A study of 67 nurses administering chemotherapy in rural and remote areas of Queensland, published last year by McCarthy et al3, alarmingly found that 6% of respondents had received no training or minimal training in the administration of chemotherapy, 28% had not received training in the management of nausea and vomiting and 34% had not received training in the management of neutropenia. Furthermore, 36% of respondents indicated that no form of employer supported training was available to them either within their facility or offsite and 52% believed that they had been inadequately prepared for chemotherapy practice.

The following paper by Dewar et al identifies a range of training and educational needs of cancer nurses working in rural and remote areas and describes an innovative scholarship program implemented by the Queensland Cancer Fund that attempts to address those needs. Creative approaches such as this help facilitate a greater understanding of cancer care and hopefully an increased satisfaction in the work that cancer nurses perform. The beneficiaries are not only the course participants, but also workplace colleagues, employers and, ultimately, patients.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Nursing Labour Force 1999: preliminary report. AIHW, Canberra, 2000.

2. Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, The Cancer Council Australia and the National Cancer Control Initiative. Optimising Cancer Care in Australia. National Cancer Control Initiative, Melbourne, 2002.

3. A McCarthy, D Hegney, L Brown, P Gilbar, TR Brodribb, J Swales. “Chemotherapy nursing practice in rural and remote areas.” Aust J of Cancer Nursing, 3, 1 (2002): 4-11.

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