Who's who: Radiation oncology nurse

My name is Sheelagh Ryan and I have worked for 10 years in radiation oncology. Working in radiation oncology is a privilege; my patients are so inspiring in the face of a cancer diagnosis. Although my job is busy and demanding, I honestly enjoy coming to work everyday.

I work in a very busy radiation oncology department. Radiation oncology nurses work very closely within the multidisciplinary team with consultants, registrar, dieticians, radiation therapists and administration staff, as well as the physics department.

Sheelagh Ryan's i.d. It reads "Sheelagh Ryan, Radiation Oncology Nurse, Mater Private Hospital, Limerick"

A cancer diagnosis greatly affects the life of a patient and also their family members. Everyone reacts to the diagnosis differently and there is no right or wrong reaction. My job is to provide support to the patient and their family when they need it. Patients need different types of support at different times, such as emotional, physical and financial support.

My role is to listen to patients and families and to refer the patient to the appropriate services when required such as a counsellor, clinical psychologist, or social worker. Sometimes patients just want someone to talk to, or for someone to just listen.

My role is multifaceted, but mainly patient focused. I give information to all patients at a level of learning that they can understand.

Patient clinics

In most radiation therapy departments, there are new patient clinics. This is where patients have received a cancer diagnosis and have now been referred to the clinic to discuss treatment with radiation therapy. I attend the clinic with the radiation oncologist. The radiation oncologist will fully explain the purpose of radiation therapy, including the procedures involved and any side effects.

  • My role is to clarify any information given and to clarify what has been discussed.
  • I give patients my contact number so they may contact me if they think of anything they may have wanted to ask.
  • Clinic appointments can be frightening for patients and my role is to act as a patient advocate, give reassurance and to make sure the patient understands their treatment plan.
  • In some cases, I help patients and families to understand when no treatment is appropriate or required at this time.

Reviewing patients and managing side effects

As well as attending clinics, my role involves reviewing all the patients undergoing radiation therapy once weekly with my colleagues. The purpose of this review clinic is to assess how patients are coping with treatment and also assessing for side effects or any other issues they may have. We explain to the patient various types of appropriate care depending on the severity of their side effects.

It is my role, with the help of the rest of the expert radiation oncology team, to manage side effects so that each patient can maintain their quality of life. Written information is provided if required. We liaise with many other health professionals on behalf of the patient to ensure optimal patient care.

After radiation therapy

When the patient has completed radiation therapy, I liaise with public health nurses, family doctors and hospice teams to ensure continuity of care, depending on each patient’s individual circumstances.

Research and development

Research and development is important for all radiation oncology professionals. My nursing colleagues and I keep up to date with research by attending conferences and reading research articles to ensure we deliver evidence-based and best care practices for our patients.

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Radiation Oncology: From Diagnosis to Survivorship

Trinity College Dublin