Gift Provides a “Stepping Stone” to Careers in Oncology Nursing

Some students arrive at Carolina’s School of Nursing already dreaming of what kind of nurse they want to be. Often, that seed is planted long before, with a personal experience of witnessing the care of a loved one or friend.

It’s a common beginning for oncology nurses, many of whom find a heart for this kind of care early on. The School will soon have a new opportunity to grow and enrich undergraduate exposure to oncology nursing for students with an interest in deeper knowledge in the field.

A generous gift from Laura Piver, BSN ’64, will leverage the School’s proximity to the N.C. Cancer Hospital to develop the next generation of oncology nurses, providing selected undergraduate nursing students an immersive and concentrated experience in oncology nursing. Piver, who is on the School’s Alumni Association Board of Directors, has always been a strong supporter of oncology nursing, as well as experiential learning, which research has shown to have positive educational outcomes for students.

With the UNC School of Nursing Oncology Nursing Fellowship Program, these students will be able to spend part of their final year of school focusing on the care of individuals with cancer and their families. They will participate in a panel discussion on the topic, become student members of the Oncology Nursing Society at no cost, attend a professional oncology meeting to learn about ways to provide high-quality cancer care, and work on an evidence-based cancer project to present at the completion of their course. They may use their fellowships to purchase additional learning materials and resources to strengthen their understanding of and love for cancer care.

Ashley Leak Bryant, PhD, RN-BC, OCN, assistant professor specializing in oncology nursing, is the coordinator of the program, which was inspired by the School’s previous Susan D. Flynn Oncology Nursing Fellowship at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center as well as the UNC Lineberger-Sylvia Lauterborn Oncology Nursing Fellows Program. She says the fellowship is a “special stepping stone” for professional and leadership development and a way for students interested in oncology nursing to see the expansive role nurses play in an individual’s cancer journey.

“When we think of oncology nursing, we look at the journey from cancer prevention, time of diagnosis, through survivorship or even hospice care,” says Bryant. “The best oncology nurses are prepared to care for individuals and their families before treatment is initiated, during treatment and beyond. Cancer prevention is a one of the key roles of the oncology nurse. This fellowship is a way for them to become more prepared and engaged in this care and learn the resources needed for caring for these families.”

Because cancer is a disease of the older adult, more emphasis on these skills at the undergraduate level can help a future oncology nurse prepare for caring for an aging population with cancer.

“More clinical and didactic experiences working with oncology nurses can teach the kind of compassion necessary to see individuals and families through the totality of their care, not just as it relates to the illness itself, but also the impact it is having on their lives. They also need to be prepared for lifelong learning. There are new treatments and targeted therapies all the time, and that comes with new language and side effects on which you need to be versed on quickly.”

Bryant will also be able to use data collected from the experiences of these students, and those of the previous oncology nursing fellowships at UNC, to publish work on the impact that programs like these can have on the pipeline of undergraduate nursing programs to oncology nursing careers.

“I am very grateful and thankful that there are donors like Laura who support the development of nursing students with an interest in oncology nursing. To reach back and help in a way that is important to her is inspiring to us,” says Bryant. “The program is not possible without her generous support.”