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A Level of Compassionate Cancer Care to Which All Nurses Should Aspire


“The privilege of caring for these patients and their families through one of the most difficult times in their lives has helped us redefine what compassionate care truly means,” wrote Justin Kelly, BSN, RN, CCRN, RHIA in this essay nominating Brenda Hamer, BSN, RN, CCRN, OCN for CURE®’s 2019 Extraordinary Healer® Award.

In December 2014, the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC — James) relocated into a brand-new, 1.1 million-square-foot hospital. The new 21-story hospital contains 316 acute-care beds for inpatients with cancer, including 32 cancer-specific intensive care unit beds. One of the many exciting changes that came with the opening of the new OSUCCC — James was the creation of a 12-bed James Medical Intensive Care Unit (JMICU). Creating a cancer-specific medical intensive care unit has allowed for a personalized and focused approach to oncology and hematology critical care. Day in and day out, the JMICU multidisciplinary team cares for the sickest patients in the hospital. The journeys of many of those patients end in the JMICU, with their loved ones and health care teams at their sides. The privilege of caring for these patients and their families through one of the most difficult times in their lives has helped us redefine what compassionate care truly means.

Within the JMICU, there is a vast spectrum of care that is provided to our patients and families. One minute, as a bedside nurse, you could be administering vasopressors to save a patient’s life, and the next be supporting a patient and family through the end-of-life care process. Understandably, this requires a measureless and unique set of knowledge and skills that I have witnessed in the expert bedside nursing care of Brenda Hamer, BSN, RN, CCRN, OCN.

The care she provides is truly something to which bedside nurses should aspire. Recently, Brenda had to help a family with the transitioning of goals of care to comfort care for a very young patient. She had to be present at the bedside to help the patient’s wife and very young, emotional children cope with this impossible decision. At the same time that Brenda was supporting this patient’s wife and children, she had to go into her other patient’s room and be upbeat and work to help him get better and achieve his goals of transferring out of the JMICU. The balancing of one’s own emotions and actions in this setting is a skill and nursing quality that not everyone has and watching her provide care for these patients was quite inspirational. She has a direct calmness that is extremely rare, and in an instant can help a family that has been stressed regarding their loved one’s critical illness to feel informed and comforted as she provides care for them.

Brenda truly embraces the OSUCCC — James Cancer Hospital James Nursing Professional Practice Model and has served as co-chair of the JMICU Relationship Based Care Council. While serving on the council, Brenda’s commitment to her colleagues is admirable and the ideas that she brings are innovative and brilliant. Brenda works on these ideas professionally and collaboratively with her peers. She goes above and beyond to advocate for her patients to ensure that they are well informed and that get to collaborate on the goals toward which they are their families are working.

During one very challenging shift, Brenda helped both of her patients and families transition to comfort care. It was inspiring to see how she assessed each patient and family, and even more remarkably how she handled herself physically, emotionally and spiritually. This teamwork mentality allowed her to advocate for her patients when she needed more appropriate orders to keep them comfortable during the end-of-life process. Her quick development of a therapeutic relationship with each patient and family allowed her to address concerns regarding the transition to comfort care, which included meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Brenda used the JMICU pain and palliative grant resources to provide one of the families with a fan, relaxation music and a diffuser with essential oils to bring additional comfort.

Another prime example of Brenda’s extraordinary work was a specific patient and family scenario. In the charge nurse role, one has to be able to step into any assignment and assist any patient and family in need. During this particular shift, a bedside nurse was providing care for a critically ill patient when another patient’s family arrived and had several questions regarding their loved one’s plan of care. Brenda stepped in and acted quickly to coordinate a family conference with the primary team: the consulting physicians, social work, the patient care resource representative and patient experience. To organize these efforts is no small feat, and she did it in a way that, to this day, I am honestly in awe of. Brenda truly has the ability to calm and deescalate any situation. She is able communicate with all interdisciplinary team members efficiently and effectively to ensure that the patient and family are at the center of their care while they are in the JMICU. To take it a step further, Brenda checked with the floor that this patient was transferred to, to ensure that the patient was taken care of and that he received a meal. Brenda not only went above and beyond for the patient and family, but also ensured as the charge nurse that her staff was taken care of, as well.

Among the many qualities that Brenda has that make her an extraordinary healer it is this direct calmness that truly makes her an amazing nurse who is appreciated by her colleagues and the patients and families for whom she provides care in the JMICU. Brenda exhibits all of the qualities of an OSUCCC — James nurse, exemplified in her bedside nursing practice, her commitment to relationship-based care and teamwork in the JMICU. As someone who is planning to become a family nurse practitioner, she will take all of these qualities with her into her practice, and her patients and families will truly receive extraordinary care.