ICON 2016 Conference: Joint sessions to promote synergy and build skills

Chemotherapy nurses and oncology social workers will put their heads together at ICON’s 2016 conference this August to identify and address care issues that need urgent attention.

Oncology nurses and social workers will have much to talk about in specially organised joint sessions at ICON’s 2016 conference in Johannesburg from 12 to 14 August. The forums are intended not only to spark discussion and debate, but to provide a roadmap of actionable steps to be taken within the ICON framework to improve patient outcomes and support professionals working in the sector.

Belinda Bailey, organiser of the oncology nursing track for the conference says, “The discussions are meant primarily as a forum for sharing experiences related to dealing with dying cancer patients and their families, as well as to encourage multidisciplinary teamwork so that members can learn from each other and what their respective roles entail.”

Fitting in with the conference’s theme of ‘Real-World Oncology’: marrying evidence-based medicine with the realities faced in day-to-day practice, Bailey says the joint sessions will allow participants to workshop ways of ensuring that these two professional groups work synergistically to reduce duplication of work.

“We also intend to achieve a reaffirmation of the need for a holistic approach to cancer patient care, while looking at ways of supporting the support staff.”

Linda Greeff, who is organising the oncology social work tracks for the conference says that one of the more controversial topics of discussion will focus on the right to a gentle and natural death within the context of working with terminal care patients.

Greeff says, “Professor David Cameron – who has been involved in the design and conduct of many UK and international breast cancer trials – will explore the ethical and emotional issues patients face when they become terminal. Cameron is hoping to encourage all participants to explore their own deaths, to discuss their preferences and the values on which these choices are based. This will hopefully open up some meaningful sharing of ideas, fears, experiences and wishes. It might also encourage reflection about the people we meet every day and how we are dealing with suffering and our own mortality.”

A key issue for oncology nurses and social workers, who face these big questions and emotions daily, is coping with staff burnout. Being exposed day-after-day to the complex issues involved in providing cancer care means that individual professionals’ morale is severely impacted.

“By focussing on building resilience,” Greeff says, “we hope to empower our staff to build the sort of coping skills needed by professionals working in the field of oncology where burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder is often a reality. We believe that oncology team members need to be aware of the dilemmas and issues about this theme and build up their stress tolerance so that we are prepared to engage with our patients when needed.”

Bailey says, “We look forward to the opportunity to share skills-building sessions and to encourage a multidisciplinary team approach to providing cancer care across South Africa. We believe that ICON’s goal of up-skilling our chemotherapy nursing staff and oncology social workers will result not only in staff who enjoy this difficult but vital work more, but also to improve the lives of our patients and their families.”

Dr Lee-Ann Jones, head of the conference organising committee, said that the joint sessions epitomise the spirit of the conference, which is unlike any other in the oncology landscape and seeks to find practical ways to build a more holistic approach to oncology care in South Africa.

“This is an opportunity for professionals working in this space to take ownership of oncology in South Africa,” she said. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to give input into our own field of practice. No other conference brings all the players – from the clinical, funding and policy side – into a single venue to discuss meaningful and proactive change in the industry.”