Alberta Cancer Foundation

Ask the Expert: Hiring Cancer Workers



The nature of work in a cancer centre must be so difficult. How do you find staff members who are passionate about helping others?


“To care for cancer patients is truly a blessing and a privilege, and we get so much more from this experience than our patients,” says Dr. Peter Craighead, the Tom Baker Cancer Centre’s medical director and the department head of oncology for Calgary. “Yet it takes special people to ensure that patients are heard and cared for, which should drive us to consider how to recruit people, and how to develop them.”

Craighead says it comes down to keeping with a culture of giving back, and that he likes to refer to Nelson Mandela’s concept of “Ubuntu” whenever there’s a question about what to look for in staff:

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
– Nelson Mandela

“Our major role as cancer centres is to instill hope in our patients and families,” adds Craighead, noting most patients want to be heard, understood, and cared for, especially when the outcome is not good. “Potential staff members who do not demonstrate this understanding should not be considered for employment,” he says. As a rule, he and his colleagues look for team players – as cancer care is, at best, collaborative. “Our ability to develop people who are effective within teams is a predictor of whether we will succeed in our mandate to provide integrated care or not,” he explains. “Potential staff who won’t work well within teams should not be considered.”

Once you have the right types of players in place, says Craighead, it’s important as administrators “to nurture people who want to give back, as leaders we have to invest so that those being helped feel valued,” he says. “It takes a concerted effort on our part as leaders to develop the right skills in our people, and to remind people that in return we expect them to give back to patients, people around them, and to their families.”

Ask our experts questions about general health, cancer prevention and treatment. Please submit them via email to Remember, this advice is never a substitute for talking directly to your family doctor.


Make 2X the impact