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How a cancer charity trains nurses to respond to calls for support

Nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK receive detailed training including mentors and a learning contract to equip them to deal with requests for support and information
Picture shows two women wearing headsets, and one of them is speaking to a caller. Nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK receive detailed training including mentors and a learning contract to equip them to deal with requests for help and advice.

Nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK receive detailed training including mentors and a learning contract to equip them to deal with requests for support and information

Prostate cancer and benign prostate conditions can be complex health problems for those affected.

To fulfil their role as the service user's advocate at every stage of the disease process and address its significant emotional impact, our nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK need a range of skills and expertise that they might not have already have, despite being experienced and clinically competent nurse leaders in their previous field.

It is not unusual for new nurses with limited knowledge of this specialty to experience reality shock similar to that described by nursing students on qualifying.

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Nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK receive detailed training including mentors and a learning contract to equip them to deal with requests for support and information

Picture shows two women wearing headsets, and one of them is speaking to a caller. Nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK receive detailed training including mentors and a learning contract to equip them to deal with requests for help and advice.
Picture: iStock

Prostate cancer and benign prostate conditions can be complex health problems for those affected.

To fulfil their role as the service user's advocate at every stage of the disease process and address its significant emotional impact, our nurse specialists at Prostate Cancer UK need a range of skills and expertise that they might not have already have, despite being experienced and clinically competent nurse leaders in their previous field.

It is not unusual for new nurses with limited knowledge of this specialty to experience ‘reality shock’ similar to that described by nursing students on qualifying.

A well-structured training programme coupled with a supportive environment characterised by initiatives that will meet their needs is essential.

At Prostate Cancer UK, each new nurse is assigned an experienced mentor and co-mentor and has a learning contract formalising essential theoretical and practical learning.

This includes effective verbal, written communication and telephone skills that are fundamental when providing support and evidence-based information to service users, who often get in touch through calls, emails, Live Chats, social media enquiries or letters.

Coaching covers mock and supervised calls, also emails, live chats and social media

The nurses' contract learning objectives are set for both cancer and non-cancer conditions and are sequenced into learning themes including required tests and investigations for prostate disease, the screening debate, risk stratification, disease staging, relevant treatments and side effects, newer drugs and procedures, and relevant trials.

The nurse will attend lectures and conferences as well as doing online webinars and e-learning modules.

Telephone skills training is also required where the nurse has no previous experience of it. One-to-one coaching is provided by the mentor and other specialist nurses and is linked to practice by mock and supervised calls, and later in the learning process to emails, Live Chats and social media responses.

Depending on previous experience, this takes two to three months. The assigned mentors will assess the nurse’s prior knowledge and skills through a learning needs analysis.

New nurses may be acutely aware that their knowledge is limited and put unnecessary and counter-productive pressure on themselves.

We caution them against cramming in every conceivable, relevant fact as this causes an overload that can result in understandable inability to recall each new fact. Unrealistic learning expectations can cause confusion and loss of confidence.

Mentor's skills are crucial and regular meetings essential

Instead it is important to build new nurses’ confidence and help them understand that before taking phone calls they need to understand the basic themes of prostate disease, with in-depth knowledge being built gradually.

The mentor’s skills are crucial, and regular meetings essential, before the new nurse is ready to take calls.

Each caller’s permission for the mentor to supervise the call is sought by the new nurse.

This too requires communication skills, where for example the nurse may need to put the caller on hold (with permission) to confer with the mentor or take either phone or email contact details to follow up the call with more detailed information. In some cases, the nurse learner will need enough insight to agree to have the mentor take over the call and accordingly inform the caller of this need.

This approach has proved beneficial in supporting new nurses to take on the challenges of the nurse specialist role and Prostate Cancer UK we believe that nurses working in the NHS or private sector who are new to the specialty might also benefit from the formalised contract and approach that we use.

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Teresa Lynch is a specialist nurse at Prostate Cancer UK

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