Self-Awareness Is Critical in Treating Prescribing Patients With Cancer and Substance Abuse Disorders


Kathy Burns, MS, APRN-CNS, AGCNS-BC, of the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, comments on the importance of self-awareness as an oncology nurse when working to overcome one’s implicit bias.

Although the majority of nurses and advanced practice providers (APPs) agreed that implicit bias is a problem which affects many health care professionals, most fail to acknowledge their own personal bias, according to a recent survey published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.1

In an interview with Oncology Nursing News®, Kathy Burns, MS, APRN-CNS, AGCNS-BC, a benign hematology clinical nurse specialist at James Cancer Hospital, and study co-author, explains the importance of self-awareness and how oncology nurses can improve patient interactions by recognizing their own bias–particularly when prescribing medications for patients with substance abuse disorders.

“The number one thing is awareness, being aware of your own implicit bias, being aware of your personal triggers,” she said. “Reflecting on your own behavior and how others react to that behavior, reaching out to those you trust [to be] honest and help guide you.”

She acknowledged that with recent events in the pandemic, there is a plethora of resources available both within and outside of oncology institutions. She encouraged nurses and APPs to take advantage of these resources, to push themselves beyond their comfort zone, to interact with different people, and lastly, to seek ways to build their multicultural perspectives.

“In the last 12 months, the CDC has reported from March 2020 to March 2021, [over] 96,000 people died of an overdose2,” she added. “[Be] very mindful of what's going on in the world, how we react to that, and know that the needs of people are just going to shift and change.”


  1. Burns K, McNally GA. Implicit bias training: improving outcomes for patients with cancer who have substance use disorders. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2021;25(5):595-599. doi:10.1188/21.CJON.595-599
  2. Provisional Monthly National and State-Level Drug Overdose Death Counts. CDC. November 7, 2021. Accessed Decembers 10, 2021.
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