Treating the Whole Patient
At a center committed to research such as UCCCC, it’s vital to have nurses on hand who are equipped to serve as patient educators and advocates. “Cancer patients who enroll in clinical trials are generally looking for life-saving treatment, and are essentially doing so in uncharted waters. The ability to establish trust is critical,” says research nurse associate for UChicago’s hematology/oncology program Elizabeth Manchen, MS, RN, OCN®.
Typically, Manchen waits for the physician to explain the treatment protocol and any potential adverse effects, and then “translates” to ensure that all explanations have been understood. “This is when I usually field a barrage of questions about logistics and the ‘what ifs’ of embarking on a new treatment protocol,” she said.
It’s also during this initial meeting that Manchen establishes herself as the patient’s primary advocate. “While trial participants are assured that we’re all acting in their best interest, it helps them to know they’ll also have one go-to person who will always be in their corner,” she said. “I reassure them that they’ll always be able to reach me, that we know what to do in the event of adverse effects, and that, if desired, they can withdraw their consent to participate at any time.”
Manchen also stresses the positives, explaining to patients that they’ll likely be seen more frequently and followed even more closely than if they were on standard therapy.
To be the most helpful to patients, Manchen said, nurses must be knowledgeable about clinical trials.
Because Manchen typically works with phase II protocols, doses have been established and many potential adverse effects have already been identified. “I rely heavily on the established protocols and also share information with nurses across the country,” she said. “I also get useful feedback about unanticipated adverse effects—and, at times, how best to manage them—from our trial participants.”
Manchen, who stressed the importance of staying up to date on novel treatments, added that it’s especially important for nurses to familiarize themselves with the various drug pathways, which provide vital information about mechanisms of action and adverse reactions.
Laura Bruck is a freelance writer and editor based in Cleveland, Ohio. She has specialized in healthcare reporting since 1987.
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