Resilience: Semi-Structured Interviews with Oncology Nurses

Erika L. Leonard


Oncology nurses care for patients before, during, and after treatment. Relationships are built, and some patients do not survive. These nurses tend to be at a higher risk for burnout, compassion fatigue, job instability, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and depression. Compassion fatigue and burnout has been researched in nursing, showing that nurses who are more resilient, experience less compassion fatigue and burnout.

The purpose of this project is to explore the relationship between resilience and oncology nurses through semi-structured interviews and identify key themes discussed by participants. Information gathered in this qualitative project was obtained using semi-structured interviews. The semi-structured interviews were guided by questions adapted from the four concepts of Polk'™s Theory of Resilience; dispositional pattern, relational pattern, situational pattern, and philosophical pattern. Interviews from fifteen to forty minutes in length conducted via Zoom were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed noting significant themes related to resilience. The sample for this project included oncology nurses who work with various organizations throughout the northeastern region of the United States.

Responses from oncology nurses aligned with prior studies on resilience in oncology nurses. Five major themes were established from the data. Support was a main theme found amongst the participants, key words participants used were: teamwork, co-workers, and family. Self-Preservation was the second theme found amongst participants, participants used the words: walls, withdraw, internalization, or self-care. The third theme found by interviewing participants was Empathy, participants used words such as empath, caring, compassionate, quality of life preservation. The fourth theme found among participants was Humor, they used the word communication as well. Several participants discussed the importance of having a sense of humor when dealing with cancer patients and often the difficult discussions surround death. The fifth theme of note found by interviewing participants is the Perspective that people develop over time, words used include life experience, maturity, perspective, passion, positivity. Over half of the participants discussed personal growth or development they acquired during their careers and lives.

Knowing what makes career oncology nurses resilient, may inform healthcare professionals, and prevent compassion fatigue, burnout, and staff turnover while helping promote provider well-being.