The evolving challenges of specialist gynaecological cancer nurse roles – A qualitative study

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Aims: To determine how specialist gynaecological cancer nurses experience and perceive their role. Design: An Interpretive Description qualitative study employing semi-structured interview methods was conducted. Methods: Specialist nurses working in Australia or New Zealand were recruited via the Australia and New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group and the Cancer Nurses Society of Australia to contribute to focus group, dyadic and/or individual interviews. Audio-recordings of the interviews were transcribed, de-identified, and subjected to a thematic analysis. Results: Specialist cancer nurses participated in the study via one focus group interview (N = 6), one dyadic interview (N = 2) and 13 individual interviews between April – August 2016. Three major themes were inductively derived from 19 minor themes: ‘Working between worlds’ locates the role of the specialist nurse in the provision of gynaecological cancer care; ‘The patient's ‘go-to’ person’ highlights participants’ relationships with patients; and ‘When so much depends on one person’ explores the personal and professional impact of working in a specialist nursing role. Conclusion: Specialist nurses identified themselves as an accessible source of support and expertise for both women with gynaecological cancers throughout their disease trajectory and multidisciplinary team members. The main challenges they faced were the evolving and expanding nature of their bespoke roles and the dependence on them as individuals in these roles. Clearer role boundaries, guidelines for practice, effective professional support, and active succession planning are recommended. Impact: This study explored the experiences and perceptions of gynaecological oncology specialist nurses. Despite similar roles being in place across many countries for several years, the roles continue to evolve and lack clear definition which is burdensome to their incumbents. This research indicates that it is now time for nursing leaders and the broader nursing profession to delineate scope of practice, standardise nomenclature and practice and embed these roles in nursing career and education pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)910-921
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • advanced practice nursing
  • cancer nursing
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • gynaecological cancers
  • nursing workforce

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