A heartwarming story about Getting Real Ryan 03 Nov 2005

11 comments Latest by ToddZ

This email is being republished with permission from the author.

Hi Jason

I hope you get time to read this email, it is rather long, but I want to let you know that your ideas are an absolute inspiration and that they are having an impact in ways that maybe you could not imagine.

I am one of a team of three volunteers for a UK charity that was ‘created’ due to the success of a website we developed to provide nurses with free, online training courses on cancer and palliative topics. The website address is http://www.CancerNursing.org

(Note: The site is currently being redesigned, so you will be looking at our first version released in 2003. More about this redesign later.)

We initially set up the site to help a cancer nurse specialist (actually my brother) deliver training to nurses in his local hospital on the subject of Cancer of Oesophagus. 99% of the times he was due to run a face-to-face training session he was called by the ward Sister to hear the words, “Mark, ever so sorry, but we are short of staff today so the session will have to be cancelled”.

I work in the field of e-learning at a University in the UK and so I casually remarked to him, “Oh, you should offer the training on the Internet, then the nurses can undertake the training at a time and place of their choice”. He said, “That sounds great, but how on earth do I do that?”.

After talking with a colleague at my place of work, we got back to Mark and told him that if he could write the content, we would design and develop a “learning site”. We were fortunate (and some would say that this was indicative of the lack of content in the nursing field) to find the address CancerNursing.org was available (and so were all of its ‘variants’, e.g. CancerNursing.com).

We designed the site and structured Mark’s content into a course that could be undertaken online at any time. This course included text and ‘tests’ that nurses could use to check their understanding. All of the test results are kept in a database so that the nurse builds up a learning record. If the nurse undertakes all of the tests and the course evaluation then they can gain access to a printable certificate to keep in a learning portfolio or to produce as evidence of achievement on their ward.

Further ‘features’ in a course include a glossary (also allowing a nurse to suggest a term), resources (including downloads, websites, and books and journal articles), an ‘Ask the Expert’ page where nurses can submit a question to a course author, and a Learning Log (basically a blog for each learner to keep track of their thoughts during the course).

We launched the first course, and unbelievably within two weeks we had 500 learners register from 30 countries. Their feedback was simply overwhelming, here are two example comments, from both sides of the world:

As far as I am concerned this is the best thing to happen in the field of cancer education! I can learn at my own speed about subjects that really interest me, without having to get funding for a study day, swapping shifts or giving up my day off. I don’t have to pay childcare fees and I don’t have to put my make-up on, or even go out in the rain! Thank you again for helping a busy mum and nurse keep up to date!

Zara Head, UK

Wow! What can I say? The Cancer of the Oesophagus course is absolutely amazing! Even if you have never looked after a patient with oesophageal cancer, the course is well worth doing. The information learned on this course is invaluable and will be of benefit when looking after any cancer patient. I urge anyone who has an interest in cancer nursing to do this course. It is fantastic.

Rebecca Crosbie , New Zealand

We currently have 7000 learners from over 70 countries and offer a range of courses, with many more under development.

(You can see more learner comments from the left-hand menu of the site homepage).

The success led us to legitimise our efforts and we successfully gained full charitable status.

Onto you guys!

Well, your latest article talks about 3 people. We are three people, my brother the nurse (content specialist), my colleague the designer, and me the programmer (note, I did not know one thing about programming until we started the site!).

I think you are bang on with what you say about too many people. Being this small forces us to be creative. We have no real budgets as we are all volunteers, but we have achieved so much through utilising the web to great effect. Learner comments, and displaying them, are very important - they really do attract new learners. I can email press releases to journals all over the world - and I now have many great contacts within the journals who contact me to ask if there is any news for them to publish!

We started using the free version of Basecamp about two months and we have just signed up for a paid version (thanks for getting Writeboard in there!!). Once we raise the funds we will definitely be purchasing one of the ‘bigger’ versions. Our team and course authors are distributed across the globe - your ‘tools’ are proving to be absolutely fundamental to us. One of the team members mentioned that for the first time he could actually see what the rest of us were up to (particularly via the Milestones)! This visibility is essential!

Finally, as the ‘programmer’, faced with redeveloping the site, (I look at some of my old code and I wonder how it actually works!), your ethos for development has change my whole way of thinking. There are endless new functions I could add to the new version of the site, and I have limited time (I still have a full-time day job). Your best tip ever for me? Create a list of things I will not offer in the next version!

This has made me feel so much more comfortable, and confident that I will deliver the next version. This won’t be a substantial upgrade, but then again, the learner comments we receive all say that it is great as it is - the nurses don’t want anymore features. The new version of the site will simply be better designed (incorporating full CSS), scalable and quicker. This is important, as the questions within the courses have been answered 250,000 times and they are all stored in the database!

So, the message from us is for you to keep up your fantastic work. Keep developing the apps and keep them simple, and keep writing your thoughts. They have made a real difference to us and thus to nurses (and their patients) across the world. You should rightly be taking some credit for this.

Three people can do one heck of a lot!! The CancerNursing.org site has impacted on nurses from across the globe - from the richest countries, to (and this is very important to us) the very poorest (particularly hospices in developing countries). It would still be nice not to have a day job to contend with as well!

Very best wishes


11 comments (comments are closed)

randy 03 Nov 05

So when does “Get Real: The Movie - starring Bette Midler as the Keymaster” get released?

Brad 03 Nov 05

I hope they got an upgrade coupon.

Rene Visco 03 Nov 05

Give them a free “bigger” Basecamp account!!!!

Jan Korbel 03 Nov 05

What an email! Great to see your ideas helping others I can imagine.

Let me second that you 37s guys have big influence on my thinking lately too. And I just keep using Backpack more and more…

Enough said. Keep up your course!

Ray 03 Nov 05

Thanks for these comments. To say we have been overwhelmed by what the site has achieved is an understatement!

Ask me for my favourite comments from the nurses themselves and I would give you these two:

“I didn’t think your courses would work for me as I work in isolation and value the personal interaction of seminars, but they have re-kindled my enthusiasm for nursing.”

“I am looking forward to doing more of your courses. They are fun to do and don’t seem like work at all, because they are so well developed and information is easy to digest, which makes learning so much easier.”

Remember, I didn’t know my asp from my ass two years ago, so whatever we “built” it had to be simple. That simplicity seems to have paid off. I now wonder if the more features we add the less well the site will do. None of the comments we get mention the coding behind the site or how there is a lack of flash animation or video (‘cos there aint any!).

I wonder what JF would say?!

A BIG exclamation here. The site is NOT about the coding, it is about the content. For example, our first course featured a case study written by a patient who had cancer. We kind of threw this in at the end, because someone we knew casually mentioned that her father had the type of cancer that the course is concerned. We asked him if he would write about his experience and what he produced was work of art from the heart. The feedback from the nurses is that the case study is the “perfect ending” to the course, because it is real-life.

Now we try to add a real-life case to each of the courses. It is “strange” how much of what we have done has been unplanned!




D 03 Nov 05

Truly, an inspiring saga - Keep spreading the “word!”

Chris D 03 Nov 05

How is that for a spooky coincidence: a long time friend just lost her father to Oesophagus Cancer just two days ago.
Ray keep up what you and your team are doing. And 37s, keep inspiring us all.

V 04 Nov 05

“I wonder what JF would say?!”

I’d like a “What would JF do?” t-shirt :)

Rik 04 Nov 05

He’d do less.

ToddZ 07 Nov 05

What a great thing to read on a Monday morning. Kudos to the CancerNursing team for fulfilling a need for many people. Nice to see how the 37Signals influence reaches into real life.