Catherine Bender, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the University of Pittsburgh, and Amy Hoffman, PhD, RN, of Michigan State University, shared their experiences in building interdisciplinary research teams to assess symptom management during a session at the 43rd Annual Congress in Washington, DC.

Hoffman explained her work in lung cancer, which is the most common, deadliest solid tumor worldwide. Survivors experience multiple concurrent, severe symptoms, of which fatigue is especially prevalent and poorly managed. In addition, fatigue and lack of exercise are the most frequently reported unmet supportive care needs for patients with lung cancer.

To fill the scientific gap, Hoffman created a team of nurses, thoracic surgeons, pulmonologists, exercise scientists, and biostatisticians to study fatigue and physical activity in patients with lung cancer.

  • Their perspective study of 37 patients who were randomized to a six-week exercise program post-thoracotomy for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) indicated the intervention was highly acceptable because it removed traditional barrier to exercise.
  • The group’s two-arm, randomized, controlled trial examined the impact of a six-week rehabilitative cancer-related fatigue self-management exercise intervention in 37 patients with NSCLC compared with a control group of 35 patients receiving usual care. The exercise intervention demonstrated preliminary efficacy in reducing cancer-related fatigue severity and fatigability.
  • Their literature review examined physical activity in cancer prevention and found growing evidence that reduced physical activity increases the risk of comorbid conditions such as cancer. Still, clinician education and prescription of physical activity remains limited.
  • Another study examined the use of the theory of symptom self-management by incorporating interventions to increase patients’ perceived self-efficacy to optimize outcomes. Guided by a theoretical approach, oncology nurses can have a significant positive impact on their patients’ lives in reducing the symptom burden associated with cancer and its treatment.
  • The group’s randomized, controlled study developed a perceived self-efficacy for fatigue self-management instrument for use in 63 patients with lung cancer and 235 with other cancers who were undergoing chemotherapy. The instrument provided reliable and valid measures that could be used to facilitate the development of interventions to increase perceived self-efficacy to achieve optimal symptom management.

“Find positive people to surround yourself with, and include them on your team,” she concluded.

Bender then discussed how to develop and sustain a productive research team. The first phase of a research project should include a review of the previously published science in that field. Base on the informed literature and network, potential collaborators and mentors will emerge. Collaborators should have expertise in the area of research, increase productivity, have a history of collaboration or mentoring, and be realistic about time to commit. “Look for people who play nice in the sandbox,” she said.

Team leaders should decide the direction of the research and pursue grant funding, and she cautioned that sometimes a group can have competing personal and professional goals. The group will also need to identify who will take the lead and be the primary author of the study.

At the same time, leave room to allow the team to foster development of a future generation of nurse scientists. “Integrate mentees into your research team,” Bender said, allowing them to take the lead on certain aspects of a project.