An Oncology Nurse That Does It All

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healer® Vol. 15, Volume 15,

A clinical office practice nurse embraces the positive with her patients and strives for improved outcomes, even when it may not seem possible.

Any medical professional who treats patients with cancer has no illusion that tireless work doesn't necessarily correlate to better outcomes. Regina O'Connor, B.S.N., RN, a clinical office practice nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in West Harrison, New York, is aware of this as well, but you wouldn't know it. Her work ethic, dedication to her patients and willingness to embrace new challenges and assist wherever she's needed conveys that positive patient outcomes are always possible, no matter the prognosis. Patients see, feel and experience this in every interaction with Regina, whether it's in her regular role in hematology; coordinating the annual flu vaccination clinic for the entire site; arranging home care; testing for COVID-19 in patients at our institution; or balancing the scheduling needs of all the medical practices at her site location.

She also has a unique level of patient understanding. For five years, Regina has been treating an 89-year-old woman with non-Hodgkin lymphoma — now with recurrence and thrombocytopenia — as well as a newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia. After long, considered and careful discussions with Regina, the patient chose not to pursue treatment and only receive platelet transfusions. Five months later, the patient is doing exceedingly well. One would never know her age or condition considering how passionately and actively she enjoys life. Regina has been instrumental in actively helping her patient cope with her illness and continue to celebrate family events safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the arranging for blood counts several times per week, helping with transfusions and working with the palliative care team, Regina helps keep her patient's spirits elevated. Showing this level of empathy and thoughtful care — beyond any reasonable expectations — has allowed this patient and many others just like her under Regina's care to continue enjoying every moment of her life. Her skill at communicating with patient's families is unparalleled.

Unexpected obstacles to care that are prohibitive to some are mere inconveniences to Regina. Even though she has a myriad of scheduling, coordination and patient-specific responsibilities in medical oncology, Regina stepped up at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and provided consistent coverage for testing patients safely and accurately. She has trained nurses providing telephone triage for a newly developed after-hours call program. Regina does all this and more with aplomb and a calm demeanor, working well under stress and pressure with ease at any moment. Therefore, other nurses look to her as a leader and seek her advice and help just as the patients do. Regina has assisted staff to transition to hematological malignancies, providing mentorship, clinical guidance and patient resources.

As professional as Regina is, her personal attributes are just as important. No matter how many hats she's wearing, Regina will always be the first to remember and recognize a colleague's milestone such as a work anniversary or birthday. She sees every patient and colleague as a person first, and coupling her kindness and thoughtfulness with her broad skills and experience makes Regina one of the most valued professionals among peers and patients alike.

Editor’s Note: This is an essay submitted by Carolyn Arnold, B.S.N., RN, for the 2021 Extraordinary Healer Award. Click here to read more about CURE®’s Extraordinary Healer® Award for Oncology Nursing event on April 30, 2021.

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