Nick Escobedo Reflects on Oncology Nursing

Nick Escobedo Reflects on Oncology Nursing

When Nick Escobedo DNP, RN, OCN, NE-BC, director of Inpatient Oncology at Houston Methodist Hospital, started his nursing career, he didn’t expect to land in oncology nursing. During May’s recognition of Oncology Nursing Month, Escobedo says the career has offered distinctive opportunities for personal and professional growth.

“I went into a basic acute care setting right out of nursing school because I wanted to get a good, solid foundation for myself in practice,” Escobedo, a former president of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation, says. But the learning process opened up new, and appealing possibilities. “I had an opportunity to learn the skill of chemotherapy,” he says, “and the more I got to learn about it and spend time working with patients, I quickly learned this specialty was for me, and I wanted to do that full time. It chose me.”

What sets it apart from the science and the practice part of nursing, he says, is that cancer affects every body system. Oncology nurses treat patients through a span that lasts from cancer diagnosis to remission or to end of life.

“I got to use my critical thinking skills, and I got to have knowledge of all the latest and greatest therapies available,” he says. Escobedo, a dedicated lifelong learner, says it’s imperative that he stays on top of understanding new technology and the range of cancer drugs and treatment options available to patients and the safest ways to administer them.

Thankfully, oncology nursing is very collaborative, he says, and so nurses work with physicians, frontline providers, therapists, chaplains, nutritionists, clinical pharmacists, and volunteers to understand how the different pieces help drive the care of a patient. Escobedo says a nurse might check in with a clinical pharmacist to find out more about a particular drug to learn about interactions, how a patient might respond to it, and how to use it safely.

Additional education is essential for oncology nurses, he says. “My journey toward certification was big,” he says. “That was one of my ways at looking at my competence as a clinician, to say I was an expert in the care of oncology patients. So my journey to pursue that certification and have knowledge to be successful was key. I’m a big advocate for certification.”

To balance the intensity of understanding the drugs and treatments used for cancer, Escobedo says the relationships oncology nurses develop with their patients is special. “You develop long-term connections with patients and their family members,” he says. “They give so much of themselves.”

Those strong connections can help nurses and patients through the celebrations of successfully completing cancer treatment or the more difficult prognosis or outcome. “This is very hard work,” says Escobedo. “The reward is that we get to do that work, but we need to balance that with resilience. This is tough work and we have to promote and champion a little of that balance. We try to look at the celebrations that happen.”

The success stories are uplifting and have a lasting impact on nurses. “We hear from patients who were treated years ago, and they come back to check in,” he says. Patients relay news of celebrating weddings and anniversaries and the arrival of children and grandchildren. Some have even paid it forward and after being treated for cancer, have embarked on fundraising campaigns to help others.

“Our patients push us to have that drive,” he says, “And we see lots of really good outcomes.” Patients can go through treatment that is long term and so being able to go through the process with them is something oncology nurses find so rewarding, says Escobedo.

Escobedo encourages nurses who are interested in exploring oncology nursing to find a way. “If you think you could be good at it, why don’t you try it?” he says. Find good mentors and be sure to seek out projects and opportunities that will get you out of your comfort zone. “Nurses don’t get lots of oncology nursing experience through training or nursing programs,” he says. “This is a full and rewarding specialty.”

Celebrate Oncology Nursing Month

Celebrate Oncology Nursing Month

As cancer treatment changes at a rapid pace, the job of an oncology nurse evolves with lightning speed. May is Oncology Nursing Month and showcases the speed, skill, and thirst for life-long learning necessary for this career.

Oncology nurses care for patients from infancy to the very oldest in a population, so the potential to specialize in specific areas is available. And because cancer occurs throughout the body and body systems, staying up-to-date on the latest developments is required for oncology nurses. The Oncology Nurses Society is an excellent resource for nurses in the field or those considering it.

The good news is that cancer patients are living longer and with a better quality of life, even with advanced cancer. Research around the world sparks new hope for targeting cancer that is present and for preventing cancer in ways never before possible. As medical researchers continue to make new discoveries, they are saving lives and giving people hope.

Because so many cancers that were often quickly fatal a generation ago are now being managed, the field of oncology nursing is adapting to care for these patients. Nurses now treat survivors of childhood cancers who are well into adulthood and requiring long-term surveillance through other life events like pregnancy or even additional medical conditions. They are also treating older patients whose cancer is manageable medically but still has significant impact on quality of life. The complexities of offering top-quality medical care for the physical disease often merges with providing top-quality care for the emotional and spiritual issues that can crop up.

Oncology nurses see the effects of cancer on entire families as well and so frequently work within a family dynamic that ranges from the most heart-breaking sadness to the most celebratory joy. Nurses who are thinking of this specialty should work in several care settings and with different patients and conditions to find a path that resonates with their interests and passion. Some nurses choose a particular specialty based on their personal experience. Becoming certified in specific areas will increase your knowledge and help your career—you can find that information through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.

One of the primary goals in oncology nursing is education—and there’s a lot of educating that happens with a cancer diagnosis. Patients who receive a cancer diagnosis are often scared, so educating them in a way they can understand is essential. As every oncology nurse knows, there is more to it than just presenting the facts—empathy and compassion play a big role, too..

As the patient moves along through treatment, nurses are there every step of the way to help them understand how the treatment works and what kind of changes or side effects are likely or known. They offer ways to help alleviate discomfort or pain and may be able to put patients in touch with other resources (support groups, mental health support, additional home care) to help them as well.

Patients also want to know what might happen in the future and if the cancer will go away or could come back. And while tools are being developed to help the medical community get to that point, those predictions aren’t reliably available right now. Oncology nurses play a big role in helping patients live with their disease and the unpredictability that accompanies cancer. Their care and compassion are often remembered as playing a significant role in a patient’s journey.