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The Essence of a Leader

This essay nominating oncology certified registered nurse, Abbi Bruce, for the 2019 CURE® Extraordinary Healer® Award, was written by her colleague, Holly DeFeo, a board certified registered nurse at Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute.
BY Holly DeFeo, M.S.N., RN-BC
PUBLISHED July 05, 2019

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
— Mahatma Gandhi


It is with great honor that I nominate Abbi Bruce, M.S., RN, OCN, for The Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing. She leads and supports a practice environment that proactively addresses organizational change and innovation in the current dynamic and evolving health care environment. In the words of William Pollard, “Without change, there is no innovation, creativity or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” Abbi’s vision and dedication to advancing strategic priorities that positively enhance professional nursing practice, the environment in which this practice occurs and the patient experience exemplify her noteworthy transformational leadership style and qualities.


From left: Abbi Bruce, M.S., RN, OCN, and Holly DeFeo, M.S.N., RN-BC. Photos by Candace Jeffery.

Being an expert is a requirement of a leader, and Abbi is truly an expert in the nursing profession. She obtained her bachelor of science in nursing at the University of New Hampshire in 1979 and her master’s degree in science of oncology from Columbia University in 1987. In addition to holding those degrees, she is an oncology certified nurse.

Abbi’s passion and dedication to empowering oncology nurses to assume an active role in their profession and practice is supported by the fact that she was selected to take a highly visible and strategic role within our growing health care system as the director of the Hartford region of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute. In this role, she provides leadership oversight for the institute’s oncology service line and certification for the Hartford region alliance with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer and other oncology centers. She oversees medical oncology, infusion, radiation oncology and oncology support services. Abbi has advocated for the quality and safety of oncology nursing care by leading strategic planning and implementation of the Nursing Practice Council of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute. This council has become the cornerstone of a true oncology nursing shared governance council that focuses on providing nurses and the interprofessional team the opportunity to contribute and comment on the development and realization of their oncology practice. As a result of this leadership, Abbi’s level of influence has been far-reaching and had an impact on our staff and the community we serve.

Abbi is a firm believer in lifelong learning. She has pursued this goal in her own career trajectory and also through her leadership support of initiatives that offer professional development opportunities to the oncology nursing staff. Over the past several years, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation FreeTake program, which helps nurses achieve oncology nursing certification, was established throughout the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, which resulted in a significant increase in certified nursing staff.

Contributing to nursing’s knowledge base through publications and presentations is also very important to Abbi. She has written and co-written multiple articles related to a variety of topics, including the effects of mergers and acquisitions, teaching the art of living to breast cancer survivors, and autologous bone marrow transplantation as a treatment for breast cancer. Abbi has served on the editorial board and contributed to Aspen Publishers’ Oncology Services Administration manual since 2001. Additionally, she has presented on a variety of topics at various conferences, both nationally and locally.

Being a visionary is at the core of everything Abbi does. She constantly evaluates improvement opportunities and identifies innovative care redesign strategies. She does this by routinely mapping out core work processes, researching innovative care delivery techniques and strategies, and measuring outcomes that translate into clinical improvement. This approach is apparent in every organizational and educational undertaking Abbi has led.

Abbi also gives selflessly to the service of others. She sits on the board of directors, medical division, for Bethesda Evangelical Mission in Haiti. To help prevent and eradicate disease, these missions have provided essential medicines, lifesaving baby formula, and training and education for women and children, promoting better health in some of the most neglected areas of southern Haiti. Abbi has been on multiple mission trips to Haiti to provide essential nursing care. We are incredibly lucky to have her sharing her passion for this by mentoring our oncology nurses in missionary work and engaging them in these relief efforts. She embodies the selfless giving that is the essence of nursing.

The greatest accomplishment of a leader is the positive development of her staff, and this is what makes Abbi an extraordinary leader. It is with pleasure that I nominate Abbi Bruce, M.S., RN, OCN, for the CURE® Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing because she personifies the very essence of a leader, mentor and oncology nurse.
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