Annual competencies are part of all of our work experiences. We are checked on our proficiency in applying central line dressings, inserting catheters, managing pain, administering chemotherapy, and responding to emergent situations. But there is one critically important skill set that never gets evaluated: communication.
We aren’t critiqued on how well we respond to our patients and families in emotional crisis, how good we are with psychosocial assessment, how attuned we are to knowing who are resources are to help in difficult situations. Yet for most patients and families, oncology nursing communication competency is of utmost importance. It is what distinguishes us from others and reiterates our awareness of, and sensitivity to, our intervening relative to the human side of cancer.
Nearly 3 years ago, I wrote a blog in TheONC about this issue.1 I shared my thoughts about the absence of communication training in basic nursing education that led us to frequently feel inadequate in our provision of emotional support once we entered the workplace. I have since found that some new graduates are indeed receiving education on this important skill prior to their graduation. This is great news. However, most seasoned, practicing nurses have never received training or have been mentored to attain this important skill set. Rather, those who are proficient, most likely learned to communicate and render emotional support after making mistakes and trying again, or by observing and emulating others who did it well.
A recent article reported on the development, implementation, and evaluation of a communication skills training intervention for oncology nurses.2 Set within a cancer center, the module was designed to focus on teaching empathic communication skills using minimal didactic format, but rather focusing on video modeling and role play. Evaluations revealed significant nurse satisfaction with the course as well as self-report of heightened use of empathy skills in clinical encounters.
As nurses, we are quick to acknowledge that we need training assistance relative to the assimilation of new technology in the work setting. We dig our heels in and say, “I can’t take this on before I have instruction on how to do this.” But rarely do I hear a “call for help” in gaining knowledge about communication and emotional support proficiency. It not only is timely, but overdue for the majority of us. We won’t get it without asking for it, and our patients and families require it to help them transition through the ominous trajectory of cancer.
- Boyle D. Communication Skills for Oncology Nurses 101: Did You Get This Course in School? TheONC. 2014 Jan 8.
- Pehrson C, Banerjee SC, Manna R, et al. Responding empathetically to patients: Development, implementation, and evaluation of a communication skills training module for oncology nurses. Patient Educ Couns. 2016 Apr;99(4):610-6.