When the general public, including our political leaders, thinks of nurses, they often conjure images of workers in scrubs, attending to patients in a clinical environment. Although clinical nurses are a huge component of health care, including oncology, this leaves out the many nurses who have chosen to pursue patient-centered research. 

The truth is that clinical practice nurses and nurse researchers are the perfect tandem to increase the quality of patient care and scientific discovery—which has been much of the focus of the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative. According to nurse researcher and ONS member Deborah Watkins Bruner, RN, PhD, FAAN, “Nurse researchers work to discover new knowledge to improve human understanding, motivation, and behaviors to reduce the risk of cancer and increase adherence with medical recommendations for screening, vaccinations, proper use of medications, and compliance with medical follow-up after treatment.” This valuable information is then incorporated into patient-centered, evidence-based care by clinical nurses throughout the country. “This partnership is essential for moving scientific discoveries into quality patient care.” 

Keeping Patients Front and Center

As the nation focuses on the Cancer Moonshot, nurse researchers are in the unique position to help rapidly transform cancer care like never before. However, some details still need to be defined. “We must remember that the tumor is only one piece of the cancer puzzle,” Bruner said. “Human behaviors put us at as much risk for cancer or suboptimal outcomes as not having the right drug to target a specific gene or protein that promotes cancer.” 

The work of nurse researchers around the country is largely defined by patient-focused research. Many are studying ways to change behaviors in patients who don’t adhere to medications, are noncompliant with cancer screenings, ignore cancer preventing vaccines like the HPV vaccine, and who have poor adherence to follow up appointments. Bruner is currently studying best methods and practices to increase recruitment for clinical trials, including minority populations. This has been identified as one of the National Cancer Moonshot’s major goals for the foreseeable future, and nurse researchers are on the cutting edge of that scientific work.

The research used to accrue patients for clinical trials may have another benefit to the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative’s focus on precision medicine. “Nurse researchers lead the science of understanding and improving methods for increasing patient accrual to clinical trials. This is particularly challenging for precision medicine where the more precise the diagnostics become, the more like finding a needle in a haystack patient accrual becomes.”

Progress Through Collaboration 

While the Cancer Moonshot works to dismantle silos and encourage collaboration through oncological institutions, nurse researchers are already one step ahead. “Nurse scientists incorporate their findings into clinical practice,” Bruner said. “They teach the next generation of nurses about evidence-based practice, research, and leadership in improving health policy and care guidelines.”  

Implementing proven research into practice leads to great change in the face of cancer care. As government officials, healthcare professionals, and oncology specialists work to meet the goals of the Cancer Moonshot, the key to obtaining a quantum leap in cancer care is through multidisciplinary collaboration. It’s clear that nurse researchers are pursuing deeply important avenues of study, and their contributions to the National Cancer Moonshot—and the future of cancer care in general—will be invaluable.