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Irish Nurses Train at NCI

By Joanna Mayo

Four oncology nurses arrived at NIH on Sept. 28 from Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the Clinical Trials Training Program, a 3-month educational course sponsored by the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium. The program was developed as part of the consortium's effort to increase clinical cancer research in Ireland.

The nurses will rotate between the Clinical Center and NCI's branch at the National Naval Medical Center to gain experience in working in a cancer clinical trials center. During training, the nurses will focus on a team approach to managing clinical trials, learning the components of clinical trial management including the roles and responsibilities of team members.

"Nurses are essential in conducting a clinical trial," said Joyce Stocker, chair of the nurses working group. "Well-trained cancer research specialists are crucial to the improvement of cancer care on the island of Ireland."

NCI nurse Joyce Stocker (c) meets with nurses from Ireland and Northern Ireland, including (from l) Ruth Boyd, Louise Sherwin, Marie Cox and Mairéad Devine.

For more than 30 years, fellows from Ireland have been accepted in NCI's clinical research program. When they returned to Ireland they were frustrated with the lack of infrastructure in place to support research, Stocker said.

That recently changed for several reasons. The strengthening of the economy in the Republic of Ireland throughout the 1990's allowed the government to increase its investment in health research, and the 1998 peace accord made feasible a collaborative approach to building capacity for cancer clinical research between the Republic and Northern Ireland. In late 1999, the consortium was created to bring NCI on board as a partner to help build that capacity. In recent years, funding for clinical trials has been made available in both Dublin and Belfast.

Learning is a two-way experience for the nurses participating in the program. For instance, the visiting nurses tend to have more expertise in palliative care, which is more fully developed as a national philosophy in the United Kingdom and Ireland. "We are planning to tap into that expertise by planning training courses, having a visiting professor provide lectures, or perhaps having students go to Ireland for training," said Stocker. Palliative care has become a special focus for NCI.

The Irish and U.S. nurses form relationships on a personal level. Over the course of 3 months they are likely to become good friends. "We forge friendships with them and enjoy social events, shopping and travel," Stocker said. "I took them to Williamsburg with my family last spring. They really enjoyed D.C. in spring and were awestruck by the cherry blossoms."

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