‘Rosie’ the robot giving McGrath Breast Care Nurses access to vital training from anywhere in Australia

Patients with metastatic, or incurable, breast cancer will benefit from an innovative new training program being piloted by the McGrath Foundation, Monash Health, Monash University and Southern Melbourne Integrated Cancer Services (SMICS).

In an Australian first, a course designed to upskill and empower McGrath Breast Care Nurses who care for people with metastatic breast cancer will be delivered via telepresence robot.

Nicknamed ‘Rosie’, the telepresence robot will allow nurses to take part in the training program at the Monash Health Campus at Moorabbin Hospital in Melbourne’s south-east from anywhere in Australia.

The training program had been under development for several years and was originally designed with participants attending Moorabbin Hospital for the three-day practical component of the course, before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its rollout.

“Professional development opportunities for our McGrath Breast Care Nurses are core to our nurse program to ensure evidence based, best practice care continues to be delivered to patients.” – Holly Masters

“This important project complements our broader professional development program. We’ve all had to think differently about how we do things, so we are excited to try something new and embrace the growing field of telepresence robots to allow us to safely offer this training program for some nurses during the pandemic,” McGrath Foundation CEO, Holly Masters said.

“The telepresence robot allows the nurses participating in the course remote access to the clinical areas of the hospital to gain practical experience no matter where they are in Australia during the uncertainty of recurrent border closures and social isolation restrictions.

“Breast cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia with one in seven women diagnosed before the age of 85[i] and while survival rates have improved significantly, with an increased diagnosis rate comes a larger number of people whose cancer will progress. This means there is an increasing need for our specialist McGrath Breast Care Nurses to support people impacted by metastatic disease,” Masters continued.

McGrath Foundation Chief Nursing Program Officer, Jane Mahony said, “The needs of those diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer differ to those with early-stage breast cancer, with the focus of treatment on prolonging life and ensuring the quality of life is maximised. These patients and their families have more complex supportive care needs, so it is vital our nurses have the skills and knowledge to support them.”

The McGrath Foundation funds McGrath Breast Care Nurses who support people experiencing breast cancer across Australia. Of the 170 current nurses, 22 are dedicated Metastatic McGrath Breast Care Nurses, who care for people with incurable breast cancer.

The Metastatic Breast Cancer Nurse Training Program pilot project includes pre-reading and online modules tailored to the individual learning needs of each nurse participating before the three-day practical component to be delivered via the robot. Across the three days, the nurse will shadow the metastatic breast cancer nurse practitioner at the hospital, including attending multidisciplinary team meetings, outpatient clinics and supportive care consultations with patients. This is then followed by 12 months of clinical supervision support. The pilot project will see eight nurses participating in the first year.

The project will be evaluated by Monash University, Nursing and Midwifery utilising a longitudinal interventional study design. The aim is to evaluate the impact of an individualised training project for metastatic breast cancer nurses at an individual, organisational and national level. If well evaluated, it will be supported as an ongoing program for nurses supporting metastatic patients across the country.

McGrath Breast Care Nurses provide essential physical and emotional support free of charge to anyone experiencing breast cancer and their families from diagnosis and throughout their treatment. No matter if the patient is being treated

To find your nearest McGrath Breast Care Nurse, visit mcgrathfoundation.com.au/get-support/find-a-nurse

The McGrath Foundation would like to thank the following for their contribution to this important project:

  • Monash Health: Director of Clinical Operations of Breast Services Janelle Finn, Monash Health metastatic breast cancer nurse practitioner Gillian Kruss
  • Monash University, Nursing and Midwifery: Prof Deborah Griffiths, Assoc Prof Gabrielle Brand, Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Olivia Cook
  • Southern Melbourne Integrated Cancer Services: Program Manager SMICS Seleena Sherwell, Senior Project Manager SMICS Jessica Delaney

Thank you to Astra Zeneca for a generous grant to help fund the development and implementation of this pilot training program.

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Cancer data in Australia. Cat. no. CAN 122. Canberra: AIHW. Accessed June 2021; https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-data-in-australia

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