Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Nursing and Midwifery


Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Supervisor

Dr Joyce Hendrics

Second Supervisor

Dr Vicki Cope

Third Supervisor

Professor Lelia Green

Fourth Supervisor

Dr Leesa Costello


Breast cancer has had, and will continue to have, a devastating impact on the lives of many Australian women, their families, friends and the wider community. The concomitant treatment of this disease places a considerable burden on the health care system and the supporters of the person diagnosed with this disease. While there are many government and non-government organisations that provide treatment and support services for the person with breast cancer, these services are usually provided in person either in the home or at the organisation’s offices. This study extended the information advice and support aspects of these services to the online or Internet based realm via the design and development of a breast cancer focused online support community and explored the role of the expert nurse through the employment of a specialist breast care nurse as a member, moderator and health professional within this online community.

This study used an ethnonetnographic approach, including online (on the Internet) and offline (face-to-face) methods, to explore the role of the specialist breast care nurse within the online, breast cancer support, community. The study was comprised of three phases, Phase One, the offline and online identification of the information, advice and support needs of Western Australian women with breast cancer and their Internet use; development of a website designed to meet those needs and to foster the development of an online support community; Phase Two, the employment and introduction of a specialist breast care nurse as a member and provider of evidence-based information, advice and support for online community members; Phase Three, the online and offline collection of data relevant to the role of the specialist breast care nurse within the online support community.

The identification of the expert nurse as a linchpin in the patient’s care and communication has implications for future nursing practice and curricula as well as consumers of health care. Recommendations arose from the findings in relation to further research, nursing practice, education these recommendations indicate an innovative extension to expert nursing practice and together the elementary guidelines for health professional when developing an illness specific online support community foreshadow a future direction for nursing, in line with the digital age.


Paper Location