When oncology nurse Carrie MacDonald-Liska began to wonder if we could do more within schools of nursing to better prepare nursing students to assist the growing number of cancer survivors self-manage the consequences of cancer and its treatment to improve their quality of life and health outcomes, she decided she wanted to do something about it. She reopened her schoolbooks to complete a PhD in Educational Studies at StFX.
Now, Ms. MacDonald-Liska of Ottawa, ON has received a $5,000 Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology/Association Canadienne des Infirmieres en Oncologie (CANO/ACIO) Doctoral Research Grant Award to help fund her study, Exploring Oncology Patient Self-Management Support in Baccalaureate Nursing Curriculum.
It’s one of several awards she’s received since starting her PhD in 2019. She is the recipient of a $15,000 2023 Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship Award; a three-year $105,000 2020-2023 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Scholarship; and a 2021 CANO/ACIO Award of Distinction presented to an outstanding oncology nurse whose contributions to cancer nursing practice, education, leadership, and research has furthered the vision, mission, and values of CANO/ACIO.
Ms. MacDonald-Liska says the research study will fill an identified critical gap in the scholarly literature by exploring the extent and impact of educational curriculum on nurse’s knowledge and application of cancer self-management support in nursing practice.
Understanding the extent to which nursing students are prepared to assist patients self-manage the consequences of cancer is a critical first step and will facilitate curriculum development to help ensure nurses are prepared to assist patients with cancer effectively self-manage the side effects of their diagnosis and treatment, she says.
“I’m hoping that my doctoral research study findings will lead to the development of an oncology patient self-management support curriculum framework and ignite curriculum development and delivery to best prepare nursing students for the future.”
Supervisor, StFX education professor Dr. Jennifer Mitton says throughout her doctoral studies, Ms. MacDonald-Liska has shown excellent skill at synthesizing ideas and analyzing relevant research to determine themes in the literature. In doing so, she has identified the evidence-based gap of oncology patient self-management support-related knowledge and skill development in the undergraduate curricula.
“Carrie’s background enables her to conduct doctoral research that will impact nursing education by gaining an understanding of the extent and impact of educational curriculum on nurse’s knowledge and the application of cancer self-management support in nursing practice. This is due to her extensive clinical and research experience as well as her practical knowledge of the unique needs of patients with cancer,” Dr. Mitton says.
Dr. Mitton says Ms. MacDonald-Liska’s ability to anticipate developing curriculum from the anticipated results of her study stems from her program development experiences, including the Chemotherapy Home Infusion Pump Program with the Ottawa Regional Cancer Program and planning and developing with others the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Survivorship Program.
“Carrie has an outstanding academic record, has been the recipient of several awards and scholarships, and is a very experienced researcher. To date, she has published seven peer-reviewed publications, has over 35 papers/abstracts in refereed conference proceedings, is the recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Scholarship (worth $105,000 over three years), and is deeply engaged in leading ongoing professional learning education for oncology nurses as a co-chair of Survivorship Special Interest Group for the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology.
“Carrie’s scholarship and leadership in professional learning endeavours aim to help ensure evidenced-based and effective oncology patient care.”
Dr. Mitton says Ms. MacDonald-Liska’s proposed study is timely, has identified a critical evidence-based gap in the scholarly literature, and demonstrates the need to better understand the extent to which nursing students are prepared to assist patients self-manage the consequences of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“The research will be a critical first step to understanding baccalaureate nursing curriculum and will potentially develop an oncology self-management support framework to foundationally prepare nursing students to assist a growing number of cancer survivors.”
CONTRIBUTE TO THE FIELD
Ms. MacDonald-Liska says a series of events occurred while she was working in cancer survivorship that led her to pursue a PhD at StFX starting in 2019. Her anticipated PhD defence is next fall.
“First, I realized during my own nurse-led survivorship clinical experiences with breast and colorectal cancer survivors transitioning from the cancer centre to their primary care provider, the difference nursing strategies could make to support patients in the self-management of cancer as a chronic disease. Cancer survival rates have improved; however, survivors struggle with the physical, psychosocial, and lifestyle changes due to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” she says.
“Second, while conducting research on patient empowerment when completing a Master of Nursing, I identified the evidence-based gap of oncology patient self-management support-related knowledge and skill development in the undergraduate curricula. Lastly, ongoing mentoring of students, contributing to research and grant proposals, and completing multiple peer-reviewed conference presentations and publications, have led to my desire of contributing further to the academic community and evidenced-based oncology patient care.”
Nurses, she says, are perfectly situated through daily patient interactions to provide effective oncology self-management support to patients with cancer.
“I felt there was varying levels of self-management support provided by nurses at different touchpoints along the cancer trajectory and understood the difference self-management support could make. With these three observations, I began to wonder if we could do more within schools of nursing to better prepare nursing students to assist the growing number of cancer survivors self-manage the consequences of cancer and its treatment, ultimately to improve their quality of life and health outcomes.”
Ms. MacDonald-Liska says she was raised in Nova Scotia and is a proud graduate of St. Martha’s School of Nursing. Many members of her family are StFX alumni, including her father, her husband, their three children, and various other family members.
“The Rankin School of Nursing at StFX has an outstanding reputation and this program has allowed me the opportunity to liaise with nursing faculty and conduct my research. I was also aware of, and understood, the strength of the Education program at StFX, so it was an easy decision to come full circle by returning home to complete my PhD studies where my nursing education began.”
Ms. MacDonald-Liska says the support she has received at StFX, from her StFX supervisor Dr. Jennifer Mitton, and her doctoral committee members, Dr. Cathy MacDonald (StFX), Dr. Maureen Coady (StFX), and Dr. Doris Howell (Princess Margaret Research Institute), has been exceptional.
“However, I haven’t been surprised with this. I was aware before starting my PhD of the tremendous support and genuine care that StFX provides their students to be successful, future academics and leaders. My excellent experience at StFX has been exactly what I anticipated.”