This essay was written by her colleagues, Jeanine Gordon and Jaclyn Andronico, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, nominating Lisa Klempner, M.S.N., RN, OCN for CURE®’s 2019 Extraordinary Healer® Award.
New graduate nurses are not typically hired into our complex outpatient oncology infusion suites, but Lisa Klempner, M.S.N., RN, OCN, is not your typical oncology nurse. She began her career as a nursing student in the clinical assistant program in the summer of 2009, where she impressed everyone with her intelligence, professionalism and compassionate bedside manner — a true oncology nurse at heart. Lisa spent the past seven years advancing her career through the institution’s clinical ladder from a novice to an expert oncology nurse. She currently sits at the highest level, clinical nurse 4, serving as an expert nurse who manages complex patient care and demonstrates leadership and excellence in practice. As an operations coordinator, she is provided with experiences that expose her to opportunities to gain knowledge in the areas of staffing, operations and resource management. In this role, she functions as an expert operations consultant and serves as more of an assistant nurse manager. Lisa is also enrolled at the University of Maryland, where she is pursuing her master’s degree in nursing informatics.
In her operations coordinator role, Lisa has been pivotal in managing over 80 oncology nurses working in five decentralized infusion suites caring for 200 to 300 oncology patients daily. She goes above and beyond to assist in managing the daily challenges and vast operational responsibilities. These include staff scheduling, managing complex patient volume, and educating staff relating to implementation of new policies, procedures and clinical practice changes. Lisa is an effective, efficient and proactive leader for our nursing staff and infusion suites.
We could continue on about how great she is as our operations coordinator, but the focus should be on the exceptional nursing care she provided for her friend and former patient, Rudy*. She showed genuine dedication, love and compassion for this individual, which is the reason we would like to nominate Lisa for the Extraordinary Healer® Award.
Lisa met Rudy when she assumed the role of his primary infusion nurse in 2015. At the time, he was a 27-year-old patient with newly diagnosed glioblastoma who was accompanied by his mother. From the beginning, Lisa connected with Rudy due to their closeness in age and mutual love of sushi. She formed a therapeutic, professional relationship with him and his mother. During the past three years, Rudy endured many rounds of chemotherapy treatment with Lisa as his infusion nurse. Rudy was a demanding patient, always instructing the nurses where to place his IV line, how to administer his drugs and everything in between. Lisa, being the patient and calm individual she is, did not mind his requests and always took the time to listen to him and provide the safest nursing care. She recognized and appreciated how important it was for him to be involved and contribute to his own care. Over the years, Rudy endured several surgeries and radiation treatments. When Rudy was admitted to the hospital, Lisa was there by his and his mother’s side, always making herself available and ensuring they had everything they needed mentally, emotionally and physically. After a while, Rudy and his mother requested that Lisa be present for appointments with the medical and radiation oncologists because of her knowledge in oncology and the deep trust they developed in her. When they weren’t at the hospital, you could find the three of them making memories by sharing holidays and birthdays together. With her bubbly and fun personality, Lisa provided a light for this family during a very difficult time. She wanted to bring them joy by showing them a life outside the hospital. She would go to dinner with them at Rudy’s favorite restaurants, and when he couldn’t eat out, she would bring his favorite foods to him, whether at home or in the hospital. Rudy and his mother truly appreciated Lisa’s company and accepted her into their family.
Over the last year, Rudy’s disease became more serious and treatment options became limited and unsuccessful. During his last round of radiation, Lisa spent time with Rudy and his mom at every visit during her work hours for six weeks. As the oncologist looked to transition Rudy to hospice care at home, Rudy’s mother was understandably upset. Lisa helped explain and reinforce this prescription, supporting the family during that very difficult time. She helped them set up hospice services and continuity of care by providing handoff to the hospice nurse. Lisa provided respite to Rudy’s mother by taking on shifts to help care for him, which included many of the necessary activities of daily living. Several times, Rudy requested to see Lisa because she brought such joy and laughter to both him and his mother. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring to watch her care for them while struggling to care for herself.
Throughout this entire time, Lisa’s work performance never suffered. She worked on her scheduled off days, came in early, stayed late, and skipped lunches and breaks to compensate for her time spent with Rudy and his family. She managed to care for him and his caregivers and still support our nursing staff.
Eventually, Rudy’s care transitioned to inpatient hospice. The night he lost his battle with cancer, Lisa was at his bedside along with other family members who loved and cared for him. Her care did not end there; she helped the family make funeral arrangements and continues to support and maintain a friendship with his mother. We are so proud of Lisa and her selfless acts of kindness, care and compassion. She cared for Rudy very much, but his story is not unique for Lisa; it’s the way she lives her life, giving so much of herself to others when they need it most.
Oncology patients like Rudy are lucky to have nurses like Lisa be a part of their cancer journeys, and oncology nurses like us are lucky to have Lisa as a colleague — a truly extraordinary healer!
* This name has been changed to protect patient privacy.From left: Jaclyn Andronico, M.S.N., CNS, OCN, Lisa Klempner, M.S.N., RN, OCN, and Jeanine Gordon, M.S.N., RN, OCN. Photos by Ben Hider.