A Bright Point of Life in a Busy Oncology Clinic

By Samantha Soto

Kendra MacDonald is the nurse navigator for the Oncology Clinic at Markham Stouffville Hospital — Oak Valley Health in Markham, Ontario.

When she started in the newly created role, there wasn’t a clear job description. She knew her job was to complete telephone assessments and triage as necessary, but it has since become so much more than that.

Through her dedication to the patients and the job, Kendra has transformed the role completely. Her job doesn’t stop at phone calls and symptom management. She has become a huge resource and support for the rest of the team, including the nurses and oncologists. It is no question that she prioritizes her work and really cares for all the patients at the clinic.

When patients contact the clinic with issues regarding their treatment and side effects, she is the first point of contact. This can range from answering straightforward questions to triaging a wide range of sick patients seeking assistance from home. Kendra also follows up with patients, depending on their therapy and what their specific needs are. Kendra is loved by all staff, and the patients depend on her to help them.

Not only is Kendra dedicated to her daily work, but she has also been keen on keeping up-to-date with her chemotherapy and biotherapy competencies by maintaining her de Souza certification. She completed the de Souza Complex Malignant Hematology course, as she hopes to gain more extensive knowledge and a deeper understanding in her care for an even wider spectrum of patients. She is always seeking new resources and information to stay informed about changing practices in caring for the patients.

She has participated in immunotherapy toxicity talks with the professional practice leader by discussing case studies specific to the huddle topic with the rest of the nursing team. She often attends educational in-services and opportunities to enhance her learning. Kendra shows that she is willing to participate in opportunities for learning and is constantly checking in with the rest of the team to ensure everyone is doing OK.

Kendra has become a great and reliable resource for information. She is a main point of contact in the entire oncology program. Kendra works closely with the rest of the nursing team, pharmacy, oncologists, secretaries, social worker and dietitian, and she also communicates with other areas of the hospital.

In addition to all of the hard work she does on a daily basis, Kendra strives to ensure that our patients with cancer receive their COVID-19 vaccines in a timely manner, as they are an immunocompromised population. Kendra didn’t hesitate to stay at work late on multiple occasions to ensure that patients were booked appropriately as soon as possible.

She went above and beyond to provide this service to keep our patients safe. Kendra has managed to continue organizing all of this while still doing her daily work.

Since Kendra is the main point of contact for patients, they truly depend on her and look for her whenever they come into the clinic. She is always troubleshooting issues for others and helping patients. In addition to following up with several phone calls and emails a day, she always makes time for a sick patient requiring attention.

Kendra has worked tremendously hard to make time for patients requiring immediate care (e.g., patients with febrile neutropenia, an acute pain crisis, infections, treatment complications). Not only does she triage these patients over the phone, but she keeps the oncologists/nurse practitioners in a constant communication loop regarding any issues and cares for patients when they arrive at the clinic.

One of many examples is a patient who called the clinic symptomatic with chills, weakness and a fever. Kendra completed a thorough assessment over the phone, provided patient education and contacted the oncologist. When the patient arrived at the clinic, Kendra did the assessment and carried out the orders (bloodwork, diagnostic testing, direct admission to unit). Kendra always does everything she can to help the patient prior to turning care over to a staff member or a patient’s family member.

She also works closely with the community care physicians and palliative team to ensure that the patient is looked after at home. For example, if she assesses a patient and identifies that the patient has at-home needs, she will seek out orders for home care and have the patient call her if there are any issues or concerns after discharge.

Kendra is a calm person who works well under pressure. She is approachable and communicative with the rest of the team. Her phone is constantly ringing, and she approaches every situation with compassion, high level of skill and a kind heart. We truly believe she is the most deserving of this award, as her hard work should never go unnoticed. She is an asset to our oncology program, and the world is lucky to have her.

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