Bearing Witness in Oncology Nursing: Sharing in Suffering Across the Cancer Care Trajectory

Mihkaila M. Wickline

Donna L. Berry

Basia Belza

bearing witness, suffering, oncology nurses, presence, meaning-finding
CJON 2021, 25(4), 470-473. DOI: 10.1188/21.CJON.470-473

Bearing witness in oncology nursing is a critical practice for supporting patients with cancer, and yet it is an understudied phenomenon most described at the end of life. A literature review was performed to better understand the importance of bearing witness across the cancer care trajectory and to elucidate how the practicing oncology nurse can operationalize this skill in the clinical setting. Studies suggest that oncology nurses who successfully bear witness in their practice not only assist patients and families in meaning-finding, but also sustain themselves for the difficult work of oncology through the deeply gratifying gift they receive from the experience.


  • Suffering exists along the cancer continuum; therefore, nurses can bear witness throughout the cancer trajectory, not just at the end of life.
  • Bearing witness is a powerful practice that can strengthen the therapeutic relationship of the nurse and the patient and their family, which benefits all involved.
  • Bearing witness is sometimes all that nurses have to offer to patients and families and is an essential skill for oncology nurses across all practice settings.
Members Only
Not a current ONS member or journal subscriber?

Purchase This Article

Receive a PDF to download and print.