Making chemotherapy services an attractive career choice

A drop in the numbers of those training to be nurses will be felt across all services, but the specialised work of chemotherapy provision will be hit particularly hard.

Picture: Alamy

Nursing workforce issues are never too far from the headlines and finding solutions is not easy. I believe we all have a role to play. It seems logical that if the students don't come into training posts then there will be shortages at all levels of nursing over time. 

Another reduction in the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) applications for nursing courses in England and Wales this year is a cause for concern. Although cancer patients are cared for by nurses in every service, some aspects, such as chemotherapy administration, remain highly specialised. While workforce planning often focuses generically on services and roles, I don't see much about future planning for chemotherapy provision, specifically focusing on the nurse. It's a busy, and expanding part of cancer services.

When I meet nursing students, newly qualified nurses and cancer specialists, rarely do I hear them championing work in a chemotherapy unit. Usually they want to be a clinical nurse specialist or pursue a career in palliative care. 

Career path

When I teach about chemotherapy, it makes me realise how separate services can be, even within a hospital. Very few students are placed in these units and therefore don't necessarily see it as a career path. 

It is some years since I led a chemotherapy service, but it was an interesting and rewarding time in my career. However, while most staff knew where we were in the hospital, few understood how varied our roles were and the level of responsibility that came with the job.

If you were to attract someone to your chemotherapy unit, how would you describe your role on a day-to-day basis, the rewards and the challenges? Maybe we should not just use traditional job descriptions but explain what we do. Get in touch if you have some ideas about this. 

About the author

Susanne Cruickshank @Sue_Cruickshank, chair of the RCN cancer and breast care forum

This article is for subscribers only