Precision medicine, also called individualized or personalized medicine, is quickly becoming the new frontier in healthcare. It improves the way doctors diagnose and treat illness, and as a result, transforms patient management.
If you are just starting your nursing career, are already a practicing nurse, or would like to transition to nursing, precision medicine offers an exciting opportunity.
But what is personalized medicine and what are its benefits?
Healthcare practitioners have always strived to provide more effective treatments to their patients. They research new ways to diagnose illness, try out new medications and procedures and improve existing remedies.
However, this approach has always been tailored to developing treatments that work for the masses. Until now, we have not had the technology to look at individual genetic makeup and use it to design tailored treatments.
Precision medicine promises to change that. It uses electronic health records, data analytics, genetic testing and supercomputing to guide medical decisions and improve patient management.
By looking at a person’s genomic information, lifestyle, medical history and environmental conditions, experts can deliver more effective treatments. They can improve diagnoses and educate patients about how to prevent illness.
Why precision medicine?
According to the American Cancer Society, 1.9 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2022, and more than 600,000 cancer deaths were recorded. The number of Americans living with dementia is expected to reach 88 million by 2050. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women of all races, with one person dying every 34 seconds.
Scientists agree that genetic factors play a significant role not just in these diseases, but many other chronic illnesses that affect Americans. By studying patient genomes, they can help patients understand risk factors so that they can lower the risk of occurrence.
Health practitioners can also develop personalized treatments that consider not only one’s genetic makeup, but also their age, gender, environmental conditions and medical history.
What is the role of the nurse in precision medicine?
The nurse is the primary caregiver within any healthcare setting. Their traditional role is to provide personalized care for each patient so that they can achieve the best outcomes. Because of the extensive contact they have with patients, nurses are in a unique position to contribute to precision medicine.
Precision medicine is all about developing signature patient profiles. Much of this is done in the lab by studying their genome, but the rest relies on one-on-one interaction with the patient, and this is where the nurse comes in.
They spend time with the patient and develop a profile that, in conjunction with their genome sequence, can be used to develop personalized treatments. Nurses are experts in collecting family histories, making risk assessments and gathering other information that can be used to create tailored treatments.
How can I practice nursing in precision medicine?
You may wonder how you can join this exciting new field of medicine as a nurse. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is one way to do it. Different universities have different requirements to join nursing school. Most, however, will need to see your grades list and GPA scores, some experience in the field, a few referrals and a personal essay.
You may already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field and are wondering how you can transition to nursing. Again, requirements will vary, but it helps if your degree is in a related field. The best option is an accelerated degree program which takes about two years, with most classes offered online. You can learn more about how to transition from a bachelor’s to nursing degree here.
These programs are popular with those seeking to change careers because they take a relatively short time and all learning is online. They are designed to suit the time demands of a professional who has to work and study at the same time.
Getting the right degree is an important step, but it is only the first. After you graduate you should look for employment in an institution that has implemented and is actively using precision medicine.
Many of the top hospitals in the country have a precision medicine initiative underway. These institutions are highly competitive and only take the best, so you must excel in your studies and have the right combination of skills to earn yourself a position.
What is the quickest route to a nursing degree?
There are two ways you can get the right qualifications to become a nurse. You can enroll in in-person classes or you can learn everything online. Both have pros and cons, but many students opt for online classes because they come with certain distinct benefits.
Online nursing courses are often shorter than in-person courses. A course that would ordinarily take four years, for example, can take two to three years to complete. This is a huge advantage, especially for adults who are looking to transition to nursing from another profession.
Online classes offer convenience. You do not have to leave your home or your job to get to lectures and source learning materials. They are all available on your portal after you register, and all you need is a computer and an internet connection.
E-learning is often cheaper than campus classes. Students can make significant savings by enrolling in online classes. In addition to a smaller tuition bill, they also do not have to commute to school.
While this type of learning has these obvious advantages, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone excels at it. You need to be disciplined and committed to your classes to excel. You are your own master, and what you do with your time is up to you. Those who are already working may find online classes a real challenge because they have to juggle jobs, families and their courses.
Being prepared helps. If you know what to expect you can create a schedule and work with those around you to accommodate a few hours of learning each day. Join a discussion group or two and take part so that you can stay up to date.
Assignments and tests make up a significant part of your grade, so pay attention to those. Hand them in on time and if you must delay for any reason make sure to let your instructor know in advance.
Do not forget to set aside time to rest. You will not do well if you are tired and stressed out.
Why should nurses choose precision medicine?
It will be years before precision medicine becomes mainstream. Until then, hospitals and many other healthcare facilities will continue to practice medicine the traditional way, with one-size-fits-all treatments and solutions. Is it a good idea to get in now, or should you wait until later in your career to become a precision medicine nurse?
If you want to become an expert in the field, the time to get in is now. If you wait until the field is saturated you will have a harder time securing employment, and you will ultimately end up in a crowded space where it is harder to excel.
Getting in now means that you are among the pioneers, and in the future, you will be among the nurses who are involved in deciding how best to use the discoveries in this field to improve patient outcomes.
With the right qualifications, you can rise to a nurse management position and become one of the people who make strategic decisions about the implementation of individualized healthcare.
What are the benefits of precision medicine?
In 2015, President Obama announced that he was launching the Precision Medicine Initiative in a bid to improve how we diagnose and treat diseases. Rather than the one-size-fits-all approach, the researchers would explore new ways of tackling disease by considering individual genetic differences, environment and lifestyle.
In families that are predisposed to cancer, for example, members can be educated about risk factors and what they can do to reduce the odds of developing the disease.
Precision medicine can be used to predict susceptibility to chronic illness. If someone knows the odds of developing diabetes or Alzheimer’s, they can educate themselves about the disease so that if it eventually occurs, they know what steps they should take to prolong life.
It is also one of the most reliable tools for detecting disease. Rather than wait for symptoms to manifest, doctors can tell whether one is ill by running tests at the genomic level.
Personalized medicine helps doctors preempt disease progression. As diseases are easier to treat when detected early, a preemptive approach helps relieve the burden of treatment on the patient and the healthcare system.
Researchers and doctors are developing tools that make it easier to detect chronic illness and develop treatments that work for individuals. The initial efforts may take a long while and cost a lot of money, but over time new technologies for precision diagnosis will become cheaper and more accessible.
Likewise, scientists, researchers and medical professionals are getting a better understanding of pathology. The data information they gather as they develop precision medicine helps detect and treat diseases.
The shift towards individualized medicine has forced many healthcare facilities to start keeping electronic records. Patients, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have access to histories and they can use that information to deliver more effective treatments.
Doctors can dispense more effective drugs to patients, enabling them to heal faster and enjoy a better quality of life, and patients can avoid unnecessary procedures that are costly and usually quite uncomfortable.
Predictive medicine will eventually make healthcare cheaper because communities will be healthier.
Everyday examples of precision medicine
Although personalized medicine is in its infancy, most doctors already use it to provide some forms of treatment. Here are some examples of precision medicine that are being used daily:
Tracking devices that monitor health metrics
Many of us already wear a tracking device of some kind. For most, a smartwatch provides details like heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and sleep patterns. Doctors can now sync this type of patient information with their systems to make monitoring easier.
Imagine a patient is diagnosed with angina, for example. Rather than visit the hospital every week for a checkup, the doctor or nurse advises that they should wear a smartwatch that is synced to a computer in the hospital.
The nurse can keep an eye on things and if they detect any irregularities that occur. It makes things easier for all involved.
Tracking family health
This is something that doctors do regularly, and although we may not recognize it as such, it is a form of precision medicine.
Some families are more susceptible to certain illnesses and by collecting histories, doctors and nurses can, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, predict the probability of a patient developing the illness.
Breast cancer is one of the illnesses that is regularly predicted using precision medicine. Over time, as we collect more genome information, it will become easier to predict the probability of other diseases occurring.
Tracking communicable diseases
An elderly person presents at a hospital with certain symptoms. Before the end of the day, five more people come in with similar symptoms. They have certain things in common — they are within the same age bracket, come from a certain area and live similar lifestyles. Within the next week, the hospital treats more people who exhibit the same symptoms.
The hospital has been gathering data, and they can release information to the public, warning them about the illness. The announcement will include information about symptoms, who is susceptible, and what everyone can do to stay safe.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic is a good example of precision health at work. By observing how the disease spread within certain communities, healthcare professionals and scientists predicted its progression and educated the public about what precautions they ought to take. Healthcare facilities used this information to prepare beds, equipment and medication for the influx of patients that they expected.
Gene selection has not become widespread, but it has been at the forefront of medical debate for some time now. We have the technology to allow parents to choose the genetic makeup of their children.
Even more important is screening for predisposition to certain diseases. Parents can use genomic technology to find out whether there is a probability that their future child will develop certain conditions. They can choose whether to have that child.
It is a controversial area, but if legislation should allow it, we will be able to decide how healthy future generations will be.
Social media is a powerful tool for sharing information with the public, and information that is obtained by tracking pathogens can quickly be shared to prevent more people from falling ill.
Imagine, for example, that vegetables from a certain farm contain salmonella. The farm supplies restaurants and supermarkets, and people have started to show up at treatment centers with symptoms.
Healthcare professionals gather information from those who are affected and then use social media to advise the general public to avoid food from the farm in question.
This is a scenario that unfolds numerous times in America every year, and without the diligent tracking of healthcare professionals and relevant experts, many more people would get sick.
Fetal and newborn screening
In many countries, fetuses and newborns are screened for certain conditions because they are easier to manage when they are detected early. In America, for example, amniocentesis is a common test that is offered to pregnant women to detect babies who are at a higher risk of birth defects.
If a baby is determined to be susceptible, the mother has the option to terminate the pregnancy rather than give birth to a baby who will be difficult to care for and who will have a low quality of life.
In the United Kingdom, newborns can be screened for sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, congenital hypothyroidism and several other conditions. In Germany, hospitals screen for amino acid disorders, metabolic disorders and congenital diseases.
The information that doctors collect through this type of screening helps current generations as well as future ones. People find out what illnesses they and their families are likely to come down with during their lives, and they can prepare to adequately to deal with them.
Obesity is a big problem for the American population. According to statistics from one source, over 35% of the population in 19 states were obese in 2022. One way that healthcare professionals are tackling obesity is by studying family histories and creating personalized diets for patients.
By studying the prevalence of the condition in a family, as well as lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, doctors can create tailored regimens that keep patients at optimal weight and help them avoid obesity and accompanying diseases.
Precision medicine is changing our collective approach to healthcare. We can predict disease and treat it more efficiently, and waste fewer resources trying out therapies that may or may not work. Nurses are a significant element of the healthcare teams that deliver these treatments. With the right qualifications, you can be a pioneer nurse in this new frontier in healthcare.