Wellness Specialists Foster Cancer Screening and Healthy Lifestyle

September 1, 2001

SAN DIEGO, California-Screenings and a healthy life style are critical parts of cancer prevention, and, to that end, some nurse practitioners at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Prevention and Wellness Program have been given a novel assignment: They are wellness specialists.

SAN DIEGO, California—Screenings and a healthy life style are critical parts of cancer prevention, and, to that end, some nurse practitioners at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Prevention and Wellness Program have been given a novel assignment: They are wellness specialists.

It is a role well suited to nurse practitioners, said Bernadette McGovern, RN, ANP, MSN, OCN, one of the new wellness specialists. She presented material about the program at a poster session of the Oncology Nursing Society’s 26th Annual Congress (abstract 226).

"A nurse practitioner’s training focuses on health education and prevention," Ms. McGovern told ONI. "I think we are different from doctors in that we really are focused at looking at people’s lifestyles and behaviors, and motivating them to change. We’re ideally trained for that."

Each patient at the Wellness Program has a consultation with a nurse practitioner. The nurse assesses which cancer screening tests are needed and whether medical follow-up, nutritional counseling, smoking cessation, or genetic counseling may be appropriate. On average, nurse practitioners make up to four recommendations per patient.

Of 600 patients seen since the program started 2 years ago, 37% were found to have at least one positive finding, according to information gathered by Ms. McGovern and her colleagues.

As a wellness specialist, Ms. McGovern functions independently and collaboratively. "I can refer patients if they need to be seen by a doctor, and I can follow the patients who have problems," she said.

She also does outreach. "A lot of our efforts are in community education," Ms. McGovern said. "In New York, I can go out to organizations like the United Nations and companies like American Express and Colgate-Palmolive. We liaison with their health departments. I’ll do an overview on cancer prevention and educate people about risk factors, nutrition, sun exposure, family history, etc, and the different types of screening tests."

The Wellness Program is geared toward the general population and toward cancer patients, Ms. McGovern said. "We’re trying to make it easier for busy healthy people to obtain cancer screenings, but also for cancer patients who are fatigued and tired, who don’t have the energy to go see a doctor in one place, have a mammogram in another place, and have a gynecological exam somewhere else," she said.

Sometimes cancer patients have to be encouraged to get routine cancer screening, she said. "They may be a little resistant because they have been so overwhelmed with treatments and diagnostic workups. They have become very focused on the cancer that they have, and they tend to forget about everything else."