Oncology nursing: Finding the balance in a changing health care system

Debra Bakker, Margaret Fitch, Esther Green, Lorna Butler, Karin Olson


Health care restructuring has resulted in significant changes in the workload and work environment for oncology nurses. While recent studies describe the impact of these changes on the general nursing workforce in several countries, there have been no published studies that have focused on worklife issues of Canadian oncology nurses. Therefore, a qualitative study was conducted to gain insight about how oncology nursing has changed over the past decade and how Canadian oncology nurses are managing these changes. Analysis of telephone interviews with 51 practising oncology nurses employed across Canada revealed three major themes. The first theme, “health care milieu”, portrayed a picture of the cancer care environment and patient and professional changes that occurred over the past decade. The second theme, “conflicting demands”, reflects how the elements of change and social forces have challenged professional oncology nursing practice. The third theme, “finding the way”, describes the patterns of behaviour that nurses used to manage the changing health care environment and make meaning out of nurses’ work in cancer care. Overall, the findings portray a picture of Canadian oncology nurses in “survival mode”. They face many workplace challenges, but are able to keep going “for now” because they find ways to balance their responsibilities on a daily basis and because they know and believe that their specialized nursing knowledge and skills make a difference in patient care.

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