A patient-centered approach to improve experiences and outcomes for head and neck patients

Melissa Boonstra

Award: RNAO/AMS Fellow

Co-Sponsor: The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre

  • Patient/family/caregiver voices

This project arose from needs I observed when working as a patient designated oncology nurse in the cancer clinic. Most of my practice involved those diagnosed with a head and neck cancer.

These patients are very complex due to the intensity of their treatment, its side effects and other psychosocial issues common to the patient group. In addition, there has been a recent increase in numbers of patients (~ 20%) diagnosed with this type of cancer due to the effect of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Due to the fact that this is a relatively small patient cohort as compared to lung, breast, colorectal and prostate, there is a paucity of patient support and education tools. Therefore, I applied for an RNAO fellowship to have dedicated time to assess and address these gaps in care.

The opportunity to complete this fellowship has been amazing. I applied to do this fellowship because I am very passionate about the head and neck patient population and I wanted to improve the care and resources available to them. I also wanted to do the fellowship to help determine what would be the next steps for me in my career. I was unsure what type of position I would like to hold in the future. Throughout the fellowship I was able to determine what would be the right fit for me as a job. The fellowship has encouraged me to go back to school for my masters. My favorite moment from my fellowship was being able to see the collaboration and willingness to help from the entire multidisciplinary team. The entire team was more than happy to answer my numerous questions, suggest strategies, and help review designed materials throughout the entire fellowship. The openness from the team helped to solidify what a need there was for this patient population and also what a great multidisciplinary team we have. In addition, I was able to write and submit an abstract to the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology. I was accepted for an oral presentation and will be travelling to Calgary in October to attend and present at this national oncology nursing conference. This will provide me with an opportunity to learn from my Canadian oncology colleagues and to share this wonderful fellowship opportunity.