Was I misinformed?


During clinical rotations in school I had the wonderful opportunity of working with two of the most courageous patients I have ever encountered, both were battling cancer till the very end. I often have considered oncology, however, it seems as though my instructors have turned many of the students off to the area. Regaling horror stories of broken vials of chemo drugs and the possiblity of the nurses themselves at risk for contracting cancer from the medication they mix on a daily basis as well as exposure to radium implants, etc. How valid are these claims. And if you could, describe (trivial since no one day I am sure is 'typical') an "ordinary" day. Thanks, I really and truly respect what you do. My grandfather died of lung cancer and it was the nurses who comforted him and helped to alleviate his suffering and fears in such a difficult time.


44 Posts

:roll :roll :roll

People have heard of "Universal Precautions" but not chemotherapy precautions!

I have NEVER EVER EVER mixed chemotherapy. I'm sure in some places nurses do - but they are trained in how to do it right. When I was pregnant, I did not hang chemotherapy, just in case. One of my pharmacists told me that there were antibiotics that were just as dangerous, if not more so. (Like IV Acyclovir for one) I hung that every single day - but did not know it was dangerous.

As long as you follow precautions , you should be fine - same as with body fluids, etc.

I wish I could tell you what a typical day was like. They vary so much!! Some days are wonderful - the day your 32 year old patient gets to go home with his wife and kids after being in the hospital for 57 days and KNOWS that his cancer is gone and he is going to have a shot at raising those kids, or the day your 28 year old transplant patient gets out of bed for the first time after he was extubated and walks around the unit without assistance - these are proud moments :D :D

Then there are the days when you watch a mother watch her child die a week shy of his 21st birthday and there are no answers, or the phone call you have to make to the wife of a patient who just coded unexpectedly, or the day you tell that 32 year old that his cancer is back, and there's nothing we can do.

But you get through these days because you care about them and because you care, you made a difference. Your fellow nurses rally around you, because they have been there too.

Another thing - my doc's ROCK! :cool:

They value the nurse's opinions and really seem to value what nursing contributes to a patient's overall well-being. They will very frequently ask the opinion of the nurse - AND TAKE IT - over the opinion of the interns. Way cool!

Oncology is great! You were misinformed. It is sad that your instructors have not learned that every discipline in nursing is valuable. Not to say that everyone will enjoy oncology - but they shouldn't try to disuade you from it.


693 Posts

I, too, think it is unfortunate that your instructor created a negative view of this specialty. It's not for everyone, though. I worked in one office setting several years ago where I was required to mix my own drugs. And as has already been stated, if you follow the recommended precautions, you shouldn't have a problem. Most medical centers, however, have pharmacy support for chemo drugs. There are many rewards to this aspect of nursing as well as the sad times. You need to have a secure value system to be able to support the choices people make that are in opposition to what you would choose for yourself. The one outstanding factor in dealing with these patients is that you will find unbelievable strength in people when you least expect it.


940 Posts

yes there are very real risks related to handling chemo. i worked a chemo floor for about one yr, we handled and mixed many drugs. most of the hazards are to females of child bearing age especially ones that were pregnant. we had to be chemo certified many drugs were mixed under a negative pressure hood. used every precaution possible to avoid skin or mucous membrane contact. some cause birth defects others increase risks for leukemia or other types of chemo depending on chemotherapeutic agent being handled. it is a demanding specialty and rewarding if it is for you. handling chemo just requires training and caution. oh by the way if the nurse was pregnant she was not allowed to mix ,handle or even touch chemo on our unit.hope this helps you out.


7 Posts

There is so much more to oncology nursing than giving chemo. I have worked in oncology for over a year and am not even chemo certified yet. However I do consider myself an oncology nurse and am very proud of that. It is a very rewarding area to work in. It is unfortunate that more nursing students are not interestested in oncology. It is THE BEST specialty!

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