From Nursing School to Practice: Oncology Nursing TTP

12.10.2019 Atrium Health News | Levine Cancer Institute

After graduating from the Carolinas College of Health Sciences (CCHS) nursing program, Caitlin Vitulli, RN, began her nursing career at Atrium Health’s Levine Cancer Institute (LCI). “Starting any new job is a little unnerving. But going straight from nursing school to delivering care for cancer patients…It’s intimidating.”

Vitulli’s experience is not unique – many nurses entering specialty nursing fields find the learning curve can be steep. And this is where a group of veteran oncology nurses at LCI stepped in to make a difference for future nurses, and, ultimately, their patients.

Together, LCI’s nurses designed an experience aimed at giving newly hired oncology nurses time, resources and training to help them make the transition from general nursing to oncology.

The program is part of Atrium Health’s Transition to Practice program. In the winter of 2017, 12 nurses have participated in the oncology track, which gives them 14-weeks of orientation and oncology-specific training on top of the core 9-month new nurse residency program.

Angela Hosking, MBA, MSN, RN, OCN, NE-BC, administrative director, Central Operations; and LCI Nursing teammates Emily Bellard, MSN, RN, AOCNS, OCN; Jessica Garmon, MSN, RN, ONC; and Courtney Capotosta, MSN, RN, OCN, from inpatient Oncology, were the driving forces behind turning this idea into reality. They partnered with Atrium Health’s Transition to Practice Program leadership team, creating this oncology-specific experience.

“Specialty training is critical to oncology nursing, and that is not something you get in nursing school,” says Bellard, oncology clinical nurse specialist at LCI. “Even the most seasoned nurses need specialized training to learn how to manage care for cancer patients. We created this program to prepare our nurses earlier on. They are even chemotherapy-certified before their orientation is complete.”

The program includes a unique mix of outpatient training at LCI and inpatient training at Carolinas Medical Center, covering topics like hematology, solid tumors and bone marrow transplantation. In addition to classroom lectures, nurses participate in professional practice sessions, getting hands-on training through simulation sessions specific to oncology treatment.

The Oncology track is one of Atrium Health’s many New Graduate Nurse Residency Programs, which recently received accreditation with distinction by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). An integral part of the new graduate nurse experience, all RNs with less than 6 months of professional nursing experience complete the Nurse Residency Program, which supports new RNs in the transition from academia to a complex practice environment.

“The facilitators are great, and they want to see us succeed,” says Vitulli. “They won’t put you on the floor without making sure you feel 100 percent confident. There’s peace of mind with that, because chemotherapy can be very dangerous. It can get pretty complicated, and nobody wants to get it wrong.”

The Oncology track of the Nurse Residency TTP accepts nurses twice a year, following summer and winter graduations. The number of participants continues to rise, with the latest cohort reaching 36 – more than double the initial cohort. Response to this track has been very positive. “The nurses get what they need to care for cancer patients,” says Bellard. “I wish I had something like this in my time! The classes help them become seasoned nurses, faster.”