Oncology nurses must have effective communication and team-based skills to work across disciplines with other members of the care team. In an oncology setting, teamwork promotes safer, more efficient, and higher quality care, as well as a more positive and supportive practice environment. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) has used team training to develop those skills in our staff over the past 15 years.
Interprofessional teamwork involves a systems approach to patient care and an understanding that the care each clinician provides is part of a greater, whole system. A novice is focused on their specific tasks: mastering their assessment, critical thinking, and technical care skills. The expert sees their practice in the context of the whole team working together to care for the patient and their family.
My research shows that effective interprofessional teamwork involves communication and coordination of tasks and processes in the high-risk environment of ordering, preparing, and administering correct doses of cancer therapies. We adapted the principles of team training in DFCI’s ambulatory practices and spread them across our system to our community-based satellites. We also refreshed our teams’ commitments to the principles of teamwork at certain inflection points, particularly when communication workflows change, such as the implementation of a new electronic medical record or opening a new satellite. That approach reduced our risk of error and improved the practice environment and clinician experience through enhanced communication and collaboration.
Nursing has focused on the importance of mentorship, sponsorship, and succession planning in our profession over the past few decades—all of which are components of an effective strategy for ensuring the professional development of oncology nurses. My research has increased our understanding of the power of these mechanisms, such as teamwork and team training, in advancing our colleagues’ careers and developing the next generation of our profession—critical priorities as the nursing shortage worsens. However, formalized training in interprofessional collaboration and teamwork is only beginning to be taught in some medical and nursing schools, and more research and application of these concepts are needed.
Consider the COVID-19 pandemic an opportunity to reaffirm and redefine principles of teamwork so that all team members have a shared mental model of care; situational awareness so that everyone knows what is happening at any given moment; and an understanding of who, when, where, and how team members will communicate with one another.