I recently read, with great interest, about oncology nurses leaving their cancer centers in American cities and traveling to African countries to assist in clinical and educational initiatives in cancer care.
Although many Americans may consider cancer a disease of higher-income countries where populations live longer, or are exposed to multiple chemical and environmental factors, nurses on the front lines of global healthcare suggest that cancer is increasingly the cause of morbidity and mortality in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, by 2030, nearly two-thirds of all cancer diagnoses will occur in low- and middle-income countries.¹
While we used to associate Africa with the devastation of AIDS, cancer has now become an all too common occurrence. These nurses, without the benefit of native language, or proper pharmaceutical, surgical, or technical assistance, are making a difference in tribal regions of Rwanda, Zambia, and Ghana.
"Nurses perform the vast majority of the care with cancer," said Sheila Davis, RN, DNP, ANP, FAAN, and director of global nursing at PIH. "They administer the chemotherapy, talk to patients about their symptoms and side effects, and educate the patients and families. If we can share what we know with other nurses around the globe, we can have a significant impact on the quality of patient care."²
Isn’t this just like us oncology professionals, dedicated to patient care and compassionate decision making here at home, to take our skills to the less knowledgeable? Each nurse spends three months in fellowship, during which they teach the local nurses the basics of chemotherapy, symptom management, and palliative care.
One of the nurses in the fellowship stated: "The Rwandan nurses were very engaged, and would come to my chemotherapy classes on their days off or after they had worked a full night shift. They took a lot of pride in the fact that they were doing something new for Rwanda.”4
Working with the ministry of health, they prioritized five cancers for children and seven tumor sites for adults. Any other disease situation was taken on a case-by-case basis. After a period of six weeks, local nurses had enough training to take over the care independently.
And while the nurses, doctors, and pharmacists gained experience and knowledge in cancer care, local community clinics were empowering patients in self-awareness, screening, and risk reduction.
I have always been inspired by nurses who can leave the comfort of their homeland and treat those in greatest need around the world. I believe this is the one of the greatest gifts we can offer to others: knowledge and self empowerment. If that means conquering a cancer epidemic in a remote part of the globe, that is where you are likely to find an oncology nurse professional!
Does anyone know of a colleague who has made such a contribution? What were their experiences? Is this something you would participate in as an oncology professional?
- International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care: http://www.isncc.org
- Partners in Health: www.pih.org
- The International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research: www.inctr.org
- Nurse.Com: http://news.nurse.com/article/20121022/NATIONAL01/110220004