Revisiting Clinical-Academic Partnerships for Better Cancer Care and Research : Cancer Nursing

Secondary Logo

Journal Logo


Revisiting Clinical-Academic Partnerships for Better Cancer Care and Research

Kagan, Sarah H. PhD, RN; Lynch, Mary Pat DNP, CRNP, AOCN, NEA-BC

Author Information
Cancer Nursing 46(2):p 167-168, 3/4 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000001189
  • Free

Clinical and academic cancer nursing increasingly feel like different planets, orbiting on separate tracks. Paths cross only as frequently as specific needs generate mutual interest. On one side, a researcher might need a suitable clinical site. On the other, perhaps some nurse clinicians want help framing a quality improvement project. Those in universities with their own cancer centers and schools of nursing might have more contact than others. Some institutions, including our own university, aim to bridge the gap with high-level committees to a partnership. But most efforts at promoting clinical-academic partnership exist at higher levels with sporadic impact on individual clinicians and academics.

Our experience as partners suggests a different way forward. The two of us began collaborating more than 15 years ago in a sphere to which we are both committed, improving care for older people living with and after cancer. One of us (M.P.L.) is a nurse executive with service line oversight. The other (S.H.K.) is a nurse academic and clinical nurse specialist. Our partnership began when an invitation came from the clinical side for a consultation to develop a geriatric oncology program. Almost two decades later, we are established as clinical-academic partners, leading a team, and currently overseeing two major initiatives. One initiative derives directly from our original focus, age-friendly cancer care. The other expanded that focus into clinical supportive cancer care investigations.

Our two main initiatives share key similarities and differences. Our age-friendly initiative evolved gradually, underscoring that persistence pays dividends. Initially, improving care for older people living with cancer was viewed as a niche within our center. We deliberately worked to build trust and investment. Conversely, the supportive care research initiative launched suddenly as the COVID-19 pandemic broke. Our age-friendly work made the first supportive care project possible. Trust from senior administrators meant they turned to us, investing money and other resources. Our partnership enabled us to meet immediate clinical needs and simultaneously offer scientific value. Success in the first supportive care project easily generated a second, highlighting how partnership and early wins in projects create momentum. Unsurprisingly, given the latent interest in geriatric oncology, momentum came later to our age-friendly initiative. Now, senior administrators in our cancer center and our health system are interested in using our age-friendly education, offering their teams a chance to take part in our related research.

We recognize that clinical-academic partnerships are interpreted variously by nurses around the world. Partnerships are attractive to many with potential substantive and reputational gains to realize on both sides. Shared interests and aims to integrate clinical needs and scientific merit shape our partnership. Our values guide us to emphasize the wider view and achieve enduring benefits for patients, their families, and nurses. Several lessons stand out for us as we look to the future. To those who, like us, aim to bring the orbits of clinical and academic cancer nursing into greater alignment, we say:

  • Start with shared values and interests. Invest in each other as partners. Instrumental relationships might get you to the end of a study, but they will not stand tests presented by no funding or flagging clinical interest.
  • Learn about each other’s perspectives, assets, needs, and institutional setting. Outline where assets are complementary and needs overlap; opportunities will then emerge. Sharing your perspectives enables a robust approach to opportunities arising in your settings. Capitalize on opportunities, even those that pertain only indirectly to your interests to foster a stronger partnership.
  • Build trust with senior administrators on both sides. Share early wins and highlight ongoing collaboration. Nimble clinical and scientific response requires that trust already exists. In addition, trust translates to more tangible institutional support.
  • Grow your partnership by building a team, being flexible, and creating fluid boundaries so colleagues can join and gauge the extent they can commit over time. Let students and clinicians come and go, knowing what they learn stays with them.
  • Ensure that every project you undertake as partners includes quality improvement goals and scientific aims. Each side of the partnership needs products to take away from the project.

In closing, we urge you to make kindness and generosity your hallmark of partnership. Our experience as partners emphasizes that being kind wins every time and with everyone. Ears are opened, conversations are remembered, commitments are more easily made, and trust endures. We pay kindness shown to us forward with generosity, knowing our partnership is a large part of each of our legacies. We hope you find the same value in your own partnerships, improving care and science as you go forward together.


The authors are very grateful to their clinical and academic colleagues and their students who, over many years, have been members of the teams conducting the projects described here.

Copyright © 2023 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.