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Breast care nursing

Breast care nursing,McGrath Foundation,oncology,ca
Photo: McGrath Foundation breast care nurses
Breast care nurses are registered nurses who specialise in the coordination of care and the provision of support and information to patients with breast cancer.

The role, which emerged in the 1990s, has developed in line with the increasingly complex field of breast cancer treatment.

It’s also a flourishing role with a McGrath Foundation report, Keeping Abreast of Future Need: A Report into the Growing Demand for Breast Care Nurses, revealing demand for breast care nurses is “far outstripping supply”.

In 2015, 279 breast care nurses were working across Australia with the report estimating an extra 79 breast care nurses are now needed. That demand is expected to rise to 109 breast care nurses, a 38 per cent increase, by 2020.
While earlier detection of breast cancer and better treatment are driving down the mortality rate of the disease, the number of people being diagnosed is growing - the figure stood at 159,325 in 2008 and is expected to reach 209,200 in 2017.

The report shows the demand is the result of the rising incidence of breast cancer, which remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, an increased rate of survival and a need for care post-treatment, alongside an increasing need for breast care nurses who specialise in working in metastatic or secondary breast cancer.

The McGrath Foundation funds 105 breast care nurses while more than 170 breast care nurses are also funded through local health services across Australia.

Breast care nurses work in a range of settings, including hospital and community settings in metropolitan centres through to rural and remote areas.

McGrath Foundation breast care nurses work in mostly rural and remote communities nation-wide, from Cairns and Darwin in the nation’s north to Alice Springs, Albany, Kalgoorlie, Port Lincoln and Swan Hill.

The McGrath Foundation breast care nurse based at Broken Hill works in a unique position with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and is the only breast care nurse to take to the skies to visit patients.

Breast care nurses also work in breast screening mammography services and at breast cancer charity and support organisations.

What do breast care nurses do?

Breast care nurses are pivotal to improving outcomes for patients with breast cancer.

As the breast care nurse clinical manager at the renowned McGrath Foundation and with a career in cancer nursing spanning 26 years, Kim Kerin-Ayres says breast care nurses are patient advocates who provide timely care and referral to people experiencing breast cancer, as well as their families and carers.

“It really is that combination of the art of compassion and caring with the skills, expertise and knowledge that are needed to help navigate people through a breast cancer diagnosis and the experience,” she says.

“The treatment can be really, really complicated so it’s just trying to assist them to navigate from point A to point B.

“People all have very different needs so you need to be able to tailor the support that you provide your patients and their families to help them achieve the best possible outcomes.”

Breast care nursing is also a varied role which can range from breast care awareness for people without breast cancer to assisting those with a breast cancer diagnosis, and helping patients going through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, adjuvant therapy, and in the event of any recurrence of the disease.

Ms Kerin-Ayres says it’s important breast care nurses are compassionate, resilient, professional, good communicators and that they also have empathy.

“Obviously you are dealing with people who are very vulnerable and it’s important that you provide that patient-centred care and help them through,” she says.”

Breast care nursing is often incredibly challenging.

Nurses support patients, their families and carers through the stressful and emotional parts of their breast cancer journey from diagnosis to treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

“As working in all cancer fields, it can be emotionally draining and you need to be resilient…it’s really important that you have some good self-care strategies,” Ms Kerin-Ayres says.

“It’s often complicated and you are dealing with a number of people who are at different stages with their treatment.

“Of course, dealing with people who are facing a life-threatening illness and particularly when you are dealing with advanced disease, presents its own challenges.”

Despite the challenges, Ms Kerin-Ayres says breast care nursing is also very rewarding.

“It’s always wonderful when you can see someone who will come in at the beginning and they will be very vulnerable and very shocked and distressed,” she says.

“You’re able to be with them as they move through their treatment and hopefully, at the end, they come out more resilient and you’ve supported them through what’s been a very difficult time in their life.

“I remember this one lady who, at diagnosis, it was such a profound shock for her; it really rocked her life, as it does,” she recalls.

“At the end, she said to me - I didn’t think I could do it but I realised I’m actually like a tea bag. It’s not until you put me in hot water that you know how strong I am.

“She found this incredible resilience and she actually came out empowered in a sense because she had gotten through this really big challenge in her life,” Ms Kerin-Ayres says.

“That’s what I love - I love seeing people who recognise the strengths that they actually have that they probably don’t know they have.”

How can I become a breast care nurse?

To become a breast care nurse, you must first become a registered nurse through study and practice.

Nurses often gain experience in oncology, surgery and medical areas before moving into breast care nursing.

Nurses should also have or be working towards a postgraduate qualification in breast care or oncology nursing and be able to showcase sound experience, knowledge and skills for coordinating care in this specialty field.

To become a McGrath Foundation breast care nurse, you must first complete five years’ post-registration in nursing.

Postgraduate qualifications in oncology nursing or breast care nursing are also desirable.

The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) and La Trobe University offer postgraduate courses in breast care nursing.

The McGrath Foundation also offers four annual scholarships, usually announced every March, through the Australian College of Nursing for enrolment in its graduate certificate in breast care nursing.

Ms Kerin-Ayres says three scholarships are open to all registered nurses while one scholarship is awarded to a registered nurse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

“It just gives people that kind of a leg up,” she says.

“If you’ve got an interest, we really want to be able to assist people to go on to support people with breast cancer across Australia.”

Breast care nursing is an exciting and evolving career path where new treatments are continuing to change the lives of those with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Ms Kerin-Ayres highly recommends nursing in the specialty field.

“No two days are the same, no two people are the same, even though every person you are looking after has breast cancer, they can all have different treatments,” she says.

“People are remarkably courageous sometimes, and I’m always awed by people’s ability to kind of get through things.

“It’s nice to think that you can play a small part in helping someone make that road just a little bit easier - that’s such a nice feeling.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords