In 2022 we celebrated the National League for Nursing’s Year of the Nurse Educator, but nursing staff recognize and thank nurse educators for their critical role in training and support year in and year out. Oncology nurses in particular rely on nurse educators to stay updated as treatments and patient care constantly evolve—and that requires a multipronged approach. All aspects are covered when clinical nurse educators and pharmaceutical nurse educators come together to deliver training for today’s cancer therapies.

ONS member Ashley Todd, DNP, RN-BC, OCN®, a clinical educator at Tennessee Oncology in Nashville, TN
ONS member Ashley Todd, DNP, RN-BC, OCN®, a clinical educator at Tennessee Oncology in Nashville, TN

Experts in Staff Training

When new medications are approved or treatment guidelines change, clinical and pharmaceutical nurse educators connect to inform nurses about the change, ONS member Ashley Todd, DNP, RN-BC, OCN®, a clinical educator at Tennessee Oncology in Nashville, TN, explained. The clinical educator determines the need for new oncology nurse staff training.

Ongoing training is initiated on either side. “Pharmaceutical nurse educators may identify other clinics conducting new training, and they reach out to us as clinical educators to see if our staff have a training need,” Todd said, “Also, clinical educators may receive an education request from the clinic and reach out to the pharmaceutical nurse educator to set up. In both situations, the clinical and pharmaceutical educators work together to communicate and discuss training purposes.”

Clinical and pharmaceutical nurse educators also work together to deliver the training, Todd explained. The clinical educator’s role can involve:

  • Previewing the content from the pharmaceutical nurse educator
  • Communicating with the clinic managers to determine training date and time
  • Organizing the training sessions
  • Answering questions from the clinic staff or providing them with resources for future needs

For example, Todd and ONS member and pharmaceutical nurse educator Kristin Donahue, RN, MSN, OCN®, collaborated to provide nursing and pharmacy staff at Tennessee Oncology with disease state education for ovarian cancer in August 2022. Donahue presented virtually to staff at locations that stretched multiple time zones, and Todd served as point of contact for follow-up questions and information.

“I joined each session to introduce Donahue to the staff, facilitate the meeting, and take attendance,” Todd said. “At the end of the sessions, if staff have any questions, missed the presentation, or if they would like to see the presentation again, they can reach out to me to assist with getting them into contact with Donahue.”

Experts on Specific Medications

Donahue explained that pharmaceutical nurse educators serve as subject matter experts for the training, which may involve one-on-one sessions, group in-services, and dinner programs. The training can be either branded or non-branded, said Donahue. Branded education is drug-specific, whereas non-branded training focuses on specific disease states.

Kristin Donahue, RN, MSN, OCN®
ONS member and pharmaceutical nurse educator Kristin Donahue, RN, MSN, OCN®

“Clinical educators may not be a subject matter expert on a specific medication, so collaboration with a pharmaceutical nurse educator bridges potential knowledge gaps and facilitates better understanding of medication management,” ONS member Krystin Onacilla, MSN, RN, OCN®, a senior regional nurse expert, explained. “Pharmaceutical nurse educators also provide education when clinical RNs reach out with questions on dosing, dose reductions, and side effect management.”

Mutual Support to Confront Challenges and Advance Opportunities

Both nurses cite their collaborative relationship for helping them to quickly overcome challenges such as scheduling conflicts. Together they juggle a clinic’s schedule to find times for training.

“The clinic always comes first, so the pharmaceutical nurse will work around whatever the clinic schedule allows,” Donahue said. “Pharmaceutical nurses can tailor an educational program to fit the time constraints the clinic may have. We realize that time is very valuable and patients come first, so are respectful of the clinical team's time.” Onacilla added that one solution has been to provide dinner education programs such during a local ONS chapter dinner.

Todd credits their communication as the key. “Communication is fantastic,” she said. “Both sides have the same goals in providing staff with education to overall improve patient outcomes and understand that the education should be tailored to the individual's knowledge level.”

And they all share a commitment to further grow the relationship between clinical and pharmaceutical nurses in all care settings.

ONS member Krystin Onacilla, MSN, RN, OCN®, a senior regional nurse expert
ONS member Krystin Onacilla, MSN, RN, OCN®, a senior regional nurse expert

“Look for opportunities to increase engagement between clinic and industry and have meaningful exchange of information,” Onacilla advised.

“When the relationship between clinical and pharma nurses is strong, everyone wins—including the patients,” Donahue said.

Knowledgeable Nurses Support the Best Patient Outcomes

Clinical and pharmaceutical nurse educator collaboration not only advances nurses’ knowledge but also directly translates to improving patient care, Todd explained.

“Oncology nurses must be able to understand patients’ disease and prognosis, symptoms, treatments, side effects, and side effect management to be able to deliver optimal care,” Todd said. “Clinical educators in collaboration with pharmaceutical nurse educators can provide unbranded disease state education to build the foundational knowledge and then treatment education to ensure nursing staff understands how the therapies are working on the body. Knowledgeable nursing staff empowers patients to be knowledgeable and directly ensures we are providing holistic care.”

Better care then equals better outcomes, according to Donahue and Onacilla.

“Patients are always our top priority and are at the forefront of every decision we make,” Donahue said. “When the clinical team has the tools and resources they need to effectively manage the patients they care for, this can lead to better outcomes for patients. That’s a win for everyone.”

Collaboration and teamwork also affect outcomes, Onacilla added. “Treatment in the oncology landscape is constantly changing and has created a new challenge for today’s practitioners, which is staying informed. Nurse educators in the pharmaceutical industry have the ability to provide information that is relevant and in accordance with guidelines.”

“Every oncology nurse needs to understand the ‘why’ behind what they are doing versus focusing solely on performing the tasks,” Todd said. “Collaborating with pharmaceutical nurse educators assists clinical educators for training."