Oncology nurses’ experiences regarding patients’ use of complementary and alternative therapies

Margaret I. Fitch, M. Pavlin, N. Gabel, S. Freedhoff


In their search for information and in making decisions about complementary and alternative therapies, patients will turn to oncology nurses. How oncology nurses respond to the patient’s questions or comments can have an impact on the decision a patient makes about pursuing a particular therapy or whether the patient feels supported. The impetus for this work was the desire to understand how oncology nurses are responding to the patient trend of using complementary and alternative therapies. 

Twenty-eight nurses were interviewed over the telephone and a content analysis was completed from the transcribed interviews. The nurses who participated in this study regularly engaged in conversations with patients about complementary therapies and were aware of the reasons patients pursued these therapies. Conversations about alternative therapies occurred less frequently, but often created turmoil for the nurse. The nurses thought they had a role in maintaining an open dialogue about therapies, but felt their knowledge about particular therapies was limited. Obtaining information was a challenge and they often learned about specific therapies from patients and the popular media. Turmoil arose for nurses most often with regards to patients pursuing ingested therapies or alternative therapies. Nurses suggested complementary therapies to patients, but usually waited for patients to raise the topic of alternative therapies. Providing support to patients, whatever course they are choosing to pursue, was seen as an important nursing role.

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