McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Partnership trains oncology nurses

Published: May 31, 2010
Shirley Benjamin, Laura Banfield, Paula Washington, Darron Singh and Kathy Ann Graham
Working with McMaster Health Sciences Library librarian Laura Banfield (second from left) are students of the University of the West Indies’ School of Advanced Nursing Education (from left), Shirley Benjamin, Paula Washington, Darron Singh and Kathy Ann Graham. The three-year post-diploma, BScN-linked Oncology Nursing Program in Trinidad was developed in a partnership with McMaster University’s School of Nursing.

As a nurse, Shirley Benjamin always wanted to specialize in the care of cancer patients, a passion fueled by observing how many health professionals in Trinidad and Tobago left their needs unmet.

Her passion for finding better ways to improve care led her to enroll in a three-year post-diploma, BScN-linked Oncology Nursing Program in Trinidad developed by McMaster University’s School of Nursing in partnership with the University of the West Indies (UWI’s) School of Advanced Nursing Education (SANE).

The goal of the capacity-building program is to prepare Trinbagonian nurses for leadership roles in cancer care nursing in Trinidad and Tobago where cancer is a significant health problem among its 1.2 million population. The program builds on an earlier eight-month experience in 2001 when 12 Trinbagonian nurses participated in McMaster’s on-site oncology nursing program and became "formidable advocates" for nursing and cancer care in Trinidad and Tobago.

Students of the oncology nursing program of the University of the West Indies’ School of Advanced Nursing Education: Kathy Ann Graham, Paula Washington and Shirley Benjamin
Students of the oncology nursing program of the University of the West Indies’ School of Advanced Nursing Education, Kathy Ann Graham, Paula Washington and Shirley Benjamin work in the McMaster Health Sciences Library. Their program in Trinidad and Tobago has been developed with McMaster’s School of Nursing.

Over the past three years, the program was delivered at SANE through a blend of face-to-face and distance learning.  At the start and end of each semester, McMaster faculty traveled to Trinidad for two weeks to teach. For the balance of each semester, McMaster faculty taught from Hamilton.

For the past month, Benajmin and three of her nursing colleagues have been at McMaster where they have been exposed to the latest advances in cancer treatment along with first-hand experience in advanced  patient care.

For four weeks they had a packed agenda attending a lecture and workshop on sexuality issues at the Juravinski Cancer Centre; observing at the Bob Kemp Hospice and McMaster’s Health Sciences Centre for Simulation Based Learning. They participated in a discussion on the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario’s best practice guidelines. At  the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre in Kitchener, they observed the full range of cancer care  with additional visits to the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital Cancer Care Clinic, the Ontario Breast Screening Program, Chedoke Site, and pediatric oncology units at Hamilton Health Sciences and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. One day was spent in various departments at the Juravinski Cancer Centre and one on the in-patient oncology units at Henderson Hospital.

The oncology program has received high praise from senior government and nursing officials in Trinidad as well as the nurses themselves.

Dr. Terry Mason, an oncologist and  public health commissioner in Chicago, described the program as "a model for the rest of the world." Dr. Meryl Price, director of SANE, said it "signals a new level of nursing in Trinidad and Tobago".

Carolyn Ingram, an associate professor in the School of Nursing and project co-ordinator, said the nurses strongly value the program and say it "will be tremendously valuable in advancing their own practice and improving cancer care delivery in their country."

Paula Washington, one of the Trinbagonian nurses, added the program opened up oncology in a new way to her by  "changing my interactions with my patients, my children and my family."

McMaster’s involvement in the project is completed. In keeping with its capacity-building goal, the University of the West Indies will now assume full responsibility for the program and continue to run it independently this fall.

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