Self-help groups: Oncology nurses’ perspectives

Margaret I. Fitch, Ross E. Gray, Marlene Greenberg, June Carroll, Pamela Chart, Vanessa Orr


During the past decade in North America, the number of self-help groups for cancer patients has grown dramatically. Nurses’ knowledge and attitudes about self-help groups could influence their practice behaviours and the information they provide to cancer patients. However, little is known about oncology nurses’ views regarding self-help groups.

This study used a cross-sectional survey to gather information about knowledge, attitudes, and practice behaviours of Canadian oncology nurses regarding self-help groups. A total of 676 nurses completed the survey (response rate of 61.3%). The respondents had spent, on average, 21.6 years in nursing and 11.6 years in oncology nursing. Results indicated that a large majority of nurses knew about available self-help groups. Approximately one-fifth of the nurses are speaking frequently about self-help groups with patients (20.7%) and are initiating the conversation on a frequent basis (22.0%). Overall, oncology nurses rated self-help groups as helpful with regards to sharing common experiences (79.5%), sharing information (75.6%), bonding (74.0%), and feeling understood (72.0%). The most frequently identified concern regarding the groups was about misinformation being shared (37.9%), negative effects of associating with the very ill (22.1%), and promoting unconventional therapies (21.2%). Implications from the study suggest that oncology nurses would benefit from learning more about the nature of self-help groups and being able to talk with patients about the self-help experience.

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