"Holistic Competence": How Is it Developed, Shared, and Shaped by Health Care Professionals Caring for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer?


Lea S(1), Gibson F(2)(3), Taylor RM(4).
Author information:
(1)Cancer Division, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom.
(2)School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom.
(3)Centre for Outcomes and Experience Research in Children's Health, Illness and Disability
(ORCHID), Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom.
(4)Centre for Nurse, Midwife and Allied Health Profession Led Research
(CNMAR), University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom.


Purpose: In England, specialist cancer services for adolescents and young adults (young people) aged 15-24 are provided in 13 specialist units, with additional care provided in child and adult cancer units in the region. As a result of specialization, health care professionals (HCPs) have refined their competence, to deliver holistic care that has become central to the culture of young people's cancer care. We sought to understand and describe how HCPs developed this competence. Methods: We conducted a multiple case study in four regions across England in 24 hospitals. Data were collected through observation of clinical areas, shadowing members of the multidisciplinary team, and semistructured interviews with young people. Data were analyzed thematically and triangulated to draw meaning applicable to a range of contexts. Results: Young people (n = 29) and HCP (n = 41) across 24 different care settings were interviewed. Holistic competence enabled HCPs to deliver care that considered the age-specific needs of young people, including social, emotional, and psychological needs, in accordance with their life stage and psychosocial development. Development of holistic competence was facilitated by the following four factors: the environment, the experience continuum, enthusiasm, and education. Conclusion: The four factors facilitating holistic competence were interlinked. Working in a specialist/dedicated environment for young people increased HCPs' exposure to young people. This enabled them to become experienced in young people's cancer care, supported through education and training. Without frequent exposure to young people, HCPs were less able to achieve holistic competence, the impact of which was acutely felt by young people.