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McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Newsmagazine — Volume 9, Issue 3, Fall 2015

McMaster alumna and prof improving nursing care for cancer patients

Denise Bryant-Lukosius (BScN '81, PhD '03) is passionate about delivering high quality cancer nursing care for patients and families and minimizing the physical, emotional and psychosocial distress that can arise from a diagnosis of cancer and its treatment. Her interest stems from both her personal experiences as both a patient and an undergraduate nursing student at McMaster.

"Through my life I've been a patient in different ways. I haven't had cancer, but I know what it means to be a patient and to feel vulnerable, to not have people listen, to not receive optimal care and for problems to happen," says Bryant-Lukosius.

She says the intense need for access to high quality nursing services in cancer care is growing, as is the pivotal point of cancer control.

"Without really good nurses and access to good nursing care for patients, you can't really deliver high quality cancer care," she says.

As a nursing student, Bryant-Lukosius completed a clinical practicum on the adult hematology/oncology unit at McMaster. She loved it and got hired there after graduation.

"In oncology you can really see the impact that nurses can have on, not just patient health outcomes, but the whole way they experience having cancer," she says.

"So, it's how the nurses engage with patients and families in terms of addressing the psychosocial impact of what it means to have a cancer diagnosis; helping them cope with the symptoms and side effects; helping them to re-enter routine life once they've had really aggressive treatment like a bone marrow transplant or an aggressive bout of chemotherapy. And, it's once they've recovered with that, helping them navigate and coordinate their care across multiple systems, sectors and providers.

"Nurses can make or break the cancer experience for patients. When it's really, really good you see it and it's a beautiful thing to watch, but when there are gaps and patients don't have access to highly skilled nurses that are able to really function to advocate and work closely with patients, you see the gaps and unnecessary suffering," Bryant-Lukosius says.

Once you've lived it and you've experienced what it means to have really high quality nursing care and the tremendous impact it can have, the driver for me is to advocate for that for others.

— Denise Bryant-Lukosius

A nurse with many years of clinical experience, her research focuses on how to best develop and utilize advanced practice nurses in cancer care in order to optimize patient experience and outcomes. She is sought after across the country and internationally to share her work.

Bryant-Lukosius joined the McMaster School of Nursing faculty in 2001 and is currently an associate professor of nursing and oncology, and the co-director for the Canadian Centre for Advanced Practice Nursing Research at McMaster. She holds a unique cross appointment with the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC) as a clinician scientist and director of the Canadian Centre of Excellence in Oncology Advanced Practice Nursing (OAPN). In 2011, she became a scientist in the Escarpment Cancer Research Institute.

Bryant-Lukosius says her biggest accomplishment to date is establishing OAPN, which provides a unique program of research, education, mentorship and knowledge translation activities to support the development of generalist, specialized and advanced nursing roles in cancer control. She says being based at the JCC allows her to work close to the front line, with health care managers, clinicians and especially advanced practice nurses.

She says the health care system is beginning to recognize the benefits of high quality nursing care to cancer patients and as a result there are more innovative nursing roles in various models of care.

After starting out in a traditional nursing program, Bryant-Lukosius says her education at McMaster, particularly her experience with its problem-based learning (PBL), changed her thinking and how she approached clinical issues.

"I don't think I would be where I am today if I hadn't transferred into the third year of the nursing program at Mac," she says. "That was a life-altering move for me."

She has now come full circle and teaches fourth-year PBL.

"It is such a fun way to learn," she says. "As a student it's challenging, but then there will be that eureka moment where the light bulb clicks on and it takes your thinking to a different level. As a student that's an exciting experience, but now as a faculty member and tutor, it's interesting to see that happen in my students."