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New Training Collaboration to Focus on Breast Cancer Survivorship

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Posted: 6/30/2008

Sharon Olsen, MS, RN, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON), and colleagues have received $185,000 in funding from  Susan G. Komen For The CURE Maryland to develop a new model for coordinated long-term care for breast cancer survivors.  The collaborative initiative, "A Survivorship Program for Breast Cancer: A Transition for Patients and Providers," spans the Johns Hopkins University Schools of Nursing and Medicine.

Olsen and her colleagues are working to develop a model that is focused on the patient as a whole person, not just the label of "cancer." Not only will it implement and assess both a survivorship care plan sensitive to both patient and provider needs and a model for collaborative care across disciplines, but it also will engage in broader education of nurses, doctors, and patients themselves about the process of survivorship. And that is where the JHUSON plays a significant role.

"When treatment for breast cancer ends and survivorship begins, people want to get on with their lives. They want their stamina and good health back as well as their hair," says Olsen. "Unfortunately, too little is done to help give people the tools they need to move back into a healthy life after they defeat breast cancer or other cancers." Problems may begin to arise when a survivor graduates from ongoing care by her breast cancer team. Service fragmentation can lead to gaps in care, in part because too few primary care nurses and doctors feel comfortable managing survivor issues from sexuality, dry skin, and bone fragility to "chemo-brain" and heart health risks. 

JHUSON students will have an opportunity to gain the skills and tools needed to help change the care provided to breast cancer survivors. Olsen, one of the school's leading advocates for students to pursue careers in cancer nursing, is firmly wedded to the proposition that nurses have an important role to play in promoting healthier lives after breast cancer for survivors. But for that, they must be better trained about cancer survivorship. That begins with exposure during nursing school. The Komen award will enable her to expand efforts to integrate breast cancer survivorship education modules into the undergraduate and master's level nursing programs, initiate new clinical opportunities with expert breast cancer nurses, and to establish an oncology interest group and a luncheon series to promote long-term interest in promoting long-term breast cancer survivorship.

Olsen believes that the success of this project will help JHUSON expand its curriculum and its collaborationsacross the Hopkins system and in the communityto focus on cancer survivorship issues. In turn, increased numbers of nurses will have the tools and knowledge about survivorship to help promote the health and wellbeing of the more than 20 million people of all ages in the U.S. who are cancer survivors.