Cancer centers across the country, especially those in larger medical centers, are seeing many immunotherapy agents in standard care now. Patients are hearing about advancements in immunotherapies, they’re excited by the possibilities, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is approving new drugs or indications almost every month. Although many patients still don’t recognize the distinction between standard treatment options and immunotherapy, it’s vital for nurses to stay educated and understand how these treatments work differently from traditional care options.
Because changes in immunotherapy are happening quickly, nurses need to understand the many core concepts behind this new practice. Professional organizations like ONS have developed and cultivated resources for nurses to educate themselves and their colleagues on immunotherapy practice.
The new ONS Communities are a great place to ask questions and stay informed on discussions in immunotherapy for oncology nurses. ONS members are actively involved in the conversation, asking questions, posting solutions, highlighting resources, and finding answers together. Conversations are happening in the Immunotherapy community, the Chemo/Bio community, and the Research Nursing community as well.
National conferences can also be especially useful for oncology nurses seeking immunotherapy education. ONS’s Congress in May 2017 had several timely presentations that didn’t just cover new changes to immunotherapy, but provided information on how to care for patients, how to manage toxicities, and how to approach the supportive care aspect of it. If you were unable to attend Congress in 2017, many of the sessions can be accessed. Moreover, some sessions were recorded live and will be available to watch later. Visit congress.ons.org for more information.
Finding valuable continuing education materials and courses can also help nurses further their understanding of immunotherapy. ONS’s Immunotherapy in Cancer Treatment course can help establish a good baseline for nurses, providing information on what immunotherapy is and how it’s similar to and different from other treatments. Don’t forget to look at pharmaceutical company educational materials as well. Although sometimes considered taboo, there’s plenty of collaboration that helps develop patient and professional educational resources from pharmaceutical companies. Plenty of resources can be found that are unbranded and address immunotherapy, the science behind it, and the cell cycle.
As healthcare providers, we have a professional obligation to seek out new information about what’s happening locally and nationally with immunotherapies, because things are changing so often. Regardless of what your time and availability allow, educational options are available for everyone. If you can’t make it to conferences, online resources and CE opportunities can be completed on your own time. It’s also important to remember that while immunotherapy is making the headlines lately, oncology nurses know it won’t work for all patients. As the first line of patient care, we need to stay on top of emerging developments in all areas of cancer treatment.