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May 11, 2024

MPCCC celebrates International Nurses Day 2024

In celebration of International Nurses Day (IND) taking place on the 12 May, the MPCCC interviewed Dr Olivia Cook, registered nurse, educator and researcher, to celebrate her success, understand who inspires her to work in this field and chat about the present state of the cancer nursing workforce.

Dr Cook is the Head of Nurse Education and Research at McGrath Foundation where she is responsible for the education and professional development of the 223 McGrath Breast Care Nurses located across Australia. Dr Cook is an Adjunct Research Fellow at Monash University Nursing and Midwifery, conducting research around cancer care and the cancer nursing workforce. She has contributed extensively to the progression of cancer nursing in Australia through multiple local and national committee appointments and serves as a regular reviewer for several nursing journals. 

  1. What inspired you to work in cancer care, and what motivates you to continue working in this field?

My Dad was diagnosed with a rare haematological malignancy when I was a teenager so cancer care was a part of my life from a young age. He survived for 18 years but as a family we experienced all of the challenges that cancer poses across the disease trajectory: uncertainty; fear of recurrence, financial toxicity, acute and long-term side effects of many treatments; ongoing symptom management, psychological distress. His experience, and our experience as a family, continues to motivate me every day to work towards equitable access to care and improved outcomes for people affected by all cancers.

  1. What are some of the biggest challenges of cancer nursing care in Australia?

Workforce challenges are the stand-out concern currently and will be for some time to come. I was fortunate to be an investigator on the first ever National Cancer Nursing Workforce Survey in 2022 where we gained a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by our workforce. Concerningly, the average age of respondents (n=857) was 55.5 years and approximately one third were planning to retire within the next 5-10 years. We thus need to secure the pipeline of cancer nurses and must do so through a variety of strategies. We must also ensure that this workforce is knowledgeable and skilled in the novel anti-cancer treatments that continue to emerge, which requires strong continuing professional development programs. Clear guidelines are also required for the involvement of nurses in the multidisciplinary management of patients on these therapies to enable optimal workforce preparation.

  1. Given the nursing shortage in Australia, how do you think we can attract and retain more nurses in the cancer nursing care field, and what do you think can be done to support their professional development?

Education and support are key drivers. We need to raise the profile of cancer nursing nationally and ensure clear career pathways from undergraduate study for nurses to become cancer nurses. Capturing the interest of nursing students and ensuring that they are taught about cancer by inspiring lecturers during their undergraduate program is a great starting point. Ensuring that students and graduates have really positive experiences on clinical placements and during rotations in oncology services will encourage them to come back and choose oncology as their pathway– we can all play a role in this! We then must be able to offer funded access to postgraduate study to enable specialisation. Retaining a highly skilled cancer nursing workforce is dependent on access to high quality ongoing education and professional development and support. Embedding clinical supervision and psychological support for nurses has been shown to improve job satisfaction, decrease burnout and improve retention. These are investments that must be made if we are to secure our workforce and provide optimal cancer care into the future.

  1. What are the most significant changes in cancer nursing care you have seen through the McGrath Foundation’s involvement in the Australia Cancer Nursing and Navigation program? 

Much of this change is yet to come as the program is currently in development, however the highlight to date is the broad collaboration that the program is driving across the cancer sector. Cancer organisations have been working alongside each other for many years and the development of this program is forging even stronger ways of working together to enable equitable access to optimal cancer care. Governance structures, expert working groups, and project teams are all now active to deliver the key components of the Australian Cancer Nursing and Navigation Plan. It has been amazing to see the cancer sector mobilised in this way and aligning toward the common goals of the Australian Cancer Plan. 

  1. At MPCCC, our mission is equal access to cutting-edge cancer care for all Victorians which closely aligns to some of your goals. What can we do to ensure that every person diagnosed with cancer has access to a specialist cancer nurse? Is there a specific program we can tap into or a way we can collaborate?

The Australian Cancer Nursing and Navigation Program is the first step towards ensuring that specialist cancer nursing care is accessible to all who need it. It will take many years to ensure equitable access across tumour streams; regional, rural and remote areas; and for priority populations however this is a big first step in the right direction. There will be opportunities for health services within the MPCCC and across Victoria to participate in the ACNNP over time. Embedding new roles into health services requires close collaboration between clinicians to establish local ways of working together to ensure seamless care experiences for patients and carers. As a proud member of the MPCCC community I know that we will embrace the opportunity to be involved in this program and work together to make it a success for patients and the community.