• Connecting Nurses to Cancer, Community

    Since 2005, Dana-Farber has partnered with the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) to reduce health disparities in Boston neighborhoods and diversify the region's biomedical leadership.

    Through funding from a National Institutes of Health U-56 grant – which links institutions that serve minorities with Comprehensive Cancer Centers – the two organizations provide learning and outreach opportunities for multicultural students.

    Each semester, eight students from the UMB College of Nursing and Health Sciences come to Dana-Farber to complete a community health rotation. Instructor and Dana-Farber Clinical Nurse Specialist Susanne Conley, RN, MSN, points out that while DFCI does not offer a traditional community health experience, the Institute provides students with a unique opportunity to look at cancer as a disease that affects all communities, with an eye toward disparities.

    "We talk about clinical trials, and also look at how prevalent diseases are in different cultures," says Conley. "The fact that cancer survival rates for Caucasians are much higher really resonates with the students, since many of them come from multicultural backgrounds."

    In addition to classroom time with Conley, the aspiring nurses spend one day per week with DFCI nursing preceptors including Debra LaFrankie, RN, who mentor them as they practice procedures and patient assessments. LaFrankie worked alongside Ruth Elineema, a UMB senior and native of Tanzania.

    Shy at first, Elineema gradually became more confident in her examination skills, and her opinion was well respected among members of her care team.

    "When you've worked for a long time in an oncology specialty it's good to get another perspective; the students help us see things from the patient's standpoint," says LaFrankie, a program nurse in Neuro-Oncology. "I think Ruth is going to be an excellent nurse."

    As part of the course in the past, students have also been able to work on a community outreach project. During one semester, for example, the students taught South Boston third-graders about the risks of smoking.

    Another nursing venture being funded by the grant is an accelerated Bachelor of Science-to-PhD program. Focusing on cancer care and health disparities, the curriculum takes graduate-level nurses outside of the traditional hospital environment and introduces them to nursing research and health policy.

    The accelerated program addresses a problem that some are calling a public health crisis: a shortage of faculty at nursing schools across the country. This is compounded by a scarcity of minorities in the profession.

    "We're hoping to attract more minority students to careers in nursing, provide added training in community settings, and enable students to conduct research with Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center nurse scientists as their mentors," says Patricia Reid Ponte, RN, DNSc, FAAN, Dana-Farber's senior vice president for Nursing and Patient Care Services, chief nurse, and project co-leader with Greer Glazer, RN, PhD, FAAN, dean of UMB's College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

    Making a difference

    Dana-Farber physicians are also committed to educating the public about cancer risk reduction, screening and early detection, and treatment options and survivorship. They reach out to Greater Boston communities to increase awareness and answer questions through:

    • Ongoing presentations at partnering high schools
    • Educational sessions to physicians and patients at community health centers
    • Working with faith-based organizations and in collaboration with the Boston Ministerial Alliance
    • As part of the series "What Every Woman Should Know: Myths and Facts about Breast and Gynecological Cancers," annual presentations at the South Bay House of Correction, Mujeres Unidas En Acción, Roxbury Tenants of Harvard, and Boston Health Care for the Homeless
    • Speaking engagements to the elderly at low-income housing sites
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