The role of online education in African oncology nursing

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Published: 13 Dec 2011
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Dr Deborah McLeod - Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO) is an organisation dedicated the treatment and understanding of the psychosocial aspects of cancer. Although sometimes overlooked, this is an important issue that significantly affects patient quality of life.

Dr Deborah McLeod considers the contribution CAPO can make to the improvement of cancer care in Africa. Although there are differences between the challenges faced in Africa and Canada, many of the key issues are the same. An important way that CAPO could contribute is with expertise in the delivery of e-learning training programmes. CAPO provide a number of online courses from Canadian universities and this is likely to be an important tool in the delivery of cancer care training for African care providers.

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AORTIC 2011, Cairo, Egypt 30 November–2 December 2011


The role of online education in African oncology nursing


Dr Deborah McLeod – Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada


There are a group of us that are gathering around the question of how to develop oncology nursing education in Africa. There was an African organiser that had invited myself and my colleague to talk about some of the things that we’ve been doing in Canada and to just engage in some discussion about some of the various aspects of supportive care, psychosocial oncology, oncology nursing and the ways in which we might move or assist some of the African countries to move towards developing education in that area.


What have you found in Canada on these topics?


The Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, CAPO, has been involved in a fairly large inter-professional education project since 2006. We’ve now launched three different courses that are offered through Canadian universities for credit for graduate students and for continuing education. So our courses are offered completely online so we have students and learners coming from all parts of Canada including isolated and rural areas. So perhaps some of the expertise that I bring is some knowledge around the e-learning and inter-professional learning as well. Probably 40% of the learners that we’ve seen in our project have been nurses, we’ve had a large contingent of social workers as well but also physicians and psychologists and spiritual care providers, that sort. So that’s some of what we’ve been working on in Canada and related to that has been the whole area of dealing with the psychosocial distress, or distress more generally, that arises in cancer care, both for patients and for families. So that’s been a real agenda item for CAPO is to improve the care that people experiencing cancer receive so that they actually have distress attended to as well as the tumour. Obviously the tumour care is important but how people cope with that, how they manage, is also really important and if it’s not addressed they suffer more: their morbidity is worse, their quality of life is worse and so their experience with the cancer overall is worse, as it is also, of course, for family members. It’s unfortunate because we have a lot of good interventions that will treat distress if, in fact, we know that people are distressed and they have access to those services. So a lot of our education efforts in Canada are around increasing health professionals’ understanding of distress, increasing their ability to screen for it and to address it in both more general or basic kinds of ways at the level of the oncology nurse or oncologist but also for specialists like psychologists or social workers, advanced practice nurses, that sort of thing.


What aspects of this can you apply to Africa?


That remains to be seen. I think the kinds of education that health professionals and nurses need are similar around the world but there are ways of shaping it that fit different cultures obviously. So certain things need to be emphasised in some places than in others. So they’re shaped that way. The basic outline of the kinds of things that are needed probably isn’t a lot different but there would be an emphasis on certain kinds of things here that perhaps not so much in Canada. Africa is a big continent so there is also a lot of variability among the countries too. The other thing that maybe of some interest here and that may be applicable is the work around distance education, electronic learning. A number of countries here are exploring that as well, so have some expertise growing in that area. The area that might be a bit different for some places in Africa is the emphasis that we’ve placed on inter-professional learning and so we find that when we place different professions in the same learner groups that they actually learn a lot more because they’re learning from each other as well as with each other. So that’s been a very positive experience, I’d say, in Canada and may be of some interest to people in Africa as well.