Oncology Nurses Need to Enhance Their Genetics and Genomics Competency

Jason M. Broderick @jasoncology
Published: Friday, May 04, 2012

DNA HelixKnowledge of cancer genetics and genomics has increasingly become a required professional skill for oncology nurses; however, a pilot study has demonstrated a lag in the integration of genetics and genomics into nursing practice. At the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 37th Annual Congress, Georgie Cusack, MS, RN, AOCNS®, and Jean Jenkins, PhD, RN, FAAN, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), discussed the pilot study and available resources for enhancing oncology nurses’ genetics and genomics competency.

The pilot study, which was a collaborative effort between four agencies within the NIH, “compared nursing attitudes, practices, receptivity, confidence, and competency in integrating genetic and genomic information into [clinical practice],” according to Cusack. The data were collected from nurses through online surveys.

Cusack said the results revealed, “The majority of respondents had a limited understanding of genetics and genomics.” She added that less than one-third of respondents were aware of the nursing competencies for genetics and genomics. Further, over three-fourths of the nurses were not collecting family histories from patients and incorporating the information into practice.

Cusack and Jenkins identified several resources that nurses can use to address the genetics and genomics knowledge and practice gap:

  • The NIH publication Essential Nursing Competencies and Curricula Guidelines for Genetics and Genomics is available at www.genome.gov/27527634. According to Jenkins, the purpose of the document is to “define essential genetic and genomic competencies for all nurses, regardless of level of academic preparation, practice setting, or specialty, and to prepare the nursing workforce to deliver competent nursing care in the genomic era of healthcare.”
  • The publication Essential Genetic and Genomic Competencies for Nurses With Graduate Degrees will soon be made available on the American Nurses Association’s website (www.nursingworld.org).
  • The book Genetics and Genomics in Oncology Nursing Practice can be ordered at www.goo.gl/8mwMt.
  • ONS has issued several position statements regarding genetics and genomics including, “Cancer Predisposition, Genetic Testing, and Risk Assessment Counseling” (www.goo.gl/fQWL3), “The Role of the Oncology Nurse in Cancer Genetic Counseling” (www.goo.gl/Sg2bF), and “Direct-to-Consumer Marketing of Genetic and Genomic Tests” (www.goo.gl/mUUkJ).
  • The Genetics/Genomics Competency Center website (www.g-2-c-2.org) offers an online repository of genetic and genomic information and educational activities. Nurses can use the platform to share their genetics and genomics materials and experiences with their peers.
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) can be accessed at www.genome.gov/10002328. The federal law prevents employers and insurers from discriminating against individuals based on their genetic information.


Beyond these resources, Cusack also discussed the potential benefit of implementing an online genetics and genomics course for nurses. She said another NIH pilot study evaluated the efficacy of a Web-based course called, “Basic Genetics Education for Healthcare Providers.” The program was a success, according to Cusack, with results showing a significant increase in knowledge scores for participating healthcare providers.

Cusack noted, however, that the overall scores in “content areas surrounding genetic risk identification and ethical issues regarding genetic testing reflected continued gaps in knowledge.” She said these results emphasize the ongoing need for nurses to expand their skills as the role of genetic and genomic information in patient care continues to grow.

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