Nurses or technicians? The impact of technology on oncology nursing

Janie Brown


Medical technology has had a tremendous impact on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the last 30 years. In response to these changes, oncology nurses have become technologically-skilled practitioners as they care for patients undergoing rigorous diagnostic testing and complicated, extensive treatment regimes.

In the face of this rapid technological change, what has happened to the role of the oncology nurses? I suggest that our independent role (that which is unique to nursing) diminishes as our dependent role (delegated function) expands to accommodate the increased demands of technology. Is our priority to provide comfort, support and education to patients and their families when there are orders to check, IVs to start, medications to mix, or machines to master? Granted, many nurses choose to work in high-tech areas because of their challenging nature and high status, but others feel that their independent nursing functions are being eroded by more and more delegated function.

Until nursing clarifies its unique mission and defines the boundary of its practice, I suggest that oncology nurses will unwittingly continue to prioritize dependent over independent functions in most health care settings.

This presentation examines the issue of the impact of technology on the independent, dependent and interdependent functions of the oncology nurse. It reviews the historical perspective of the use of technology in health care, examines oncology nursing roles highlighted by interviews with practising oncology nurses, and finally suggests some strategies for minimising the impact of technology on oncology nursing practice.

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