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Keywords:

  • cancer;
  • clinical nurse specialists;
  • grounded theory;
  • multiprofessional care;
  • nurse role

Aim.  This paper describes the strategies used by cancer nurse specialists in the UK to implement their role within the multiprofessional team.

Background.  The prevalence of cancer increasingly preoccupies the developed world causing concern about the effective use of healthcare resources. The demand to contain healthcare costs and meet the complex needs of patients has led to the development of new and different types of nurse specialist roles. In the UK, these initiatives have been supplemented by reorganizing cancer services to ensure care is delivered by collaborative multiprofessional teams: nurse specialists are considered core team members. While role ambiguity and conflict are acknowledged as barriers to the successful introduction of new roles, little is known about the strategies used by individuals to facilitate role implementation.

Design.  A grounded theory design using purposive and theoretical sampling.

Methods.  Twenty-nine cancer nurse specialists from five hospitals participated in observation and semistructured interviews. The data were analysed concurrently using the constant comparative method.

Results.  Acceptance, especially by doctors, was the main problem facing cancer nurse specialists. In addition, they experienced insufficient organizational support for their role. Difficulties with acceptance impaired nurses’ ability to provide supportive care to cancer patients. Nurse specialists responded by employing several strategies including building relationships and establishing role boundaries.

Conclusions.  Some strategies used by nurse specialists are more successful than others in facilitating role implementation. While recommendations exist to assist the introduction of new roles in practice, their implementation by healthcare organizations may be limited. Future approaches should focus on helping nurses develop awareness of the problems they face, why they arise and effective mechanisms for their resolution.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The findings highlight the mismatch between cancer policy aspirations and reality and the actions taken by nurse specialists to overcome the problems they encounter.