Making Oncology Nursing An Art Form

November 9, 2020
Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healer® Vol. 14, Volume 14,

Oncology nursing can be an art form all to itself when nurses put their own spin on how to approach patients with cancer.

It is with great pride and respect that I recognize my colleague and friend, Sue Wardian Hartung, M.S.N., RN, OCN. Over the past 45 years, Sue has devoted her career to caring for and improving the quality of care for patients with cancer at Nebraska Medicine.

Her professional nursing career began in 1975, and over the next several years, Sue developed a love of caring for oncology patients. Her professional responsibilities have varied over the years, from assistant inpatient unit director to staff nurse, infusion nurse and, most recently, coordinator of patient and family education. Sue has been a longstanding member of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and its Metro Omaha Chapter, for which she has served in a variety of leadership roles, including the president. Sue is also involved in community activities focused on cancer prevention and screenings. She helps coordinate volunteers for many events and gives of her time, as well.

Over the years, Sue has been instrumental in developing many oncology patient educational materials and patient/family classes at Nebraska Medicine. When staff members identify the need for a patient teaching sheet, Sue seeks out the required information and develops appropriate resources in light of current literature and health literacy. She routinely conducts two patient/ caregiver education classes focused on the needs of patients undergoing stem cell transplant.

Sue has an uncanny ability to quickly assess learning needs and develop an individualized plan to increase patients’ and caregivers’ knowledge and comfort level. Her organizational skills, mastery of content and creative ways of presenting information give Sue a definite edge. She structures classes in a variety of ways to reach individuals who may learn differently and has the patience to allow learning to occur at each member’s pace. Sue leaves a lasting impression on those in her classes, and patients are often heard starting sentences with: “When Sue told us how to do this ...” Perhaps Sue’s greatest gift is the sense of humor she brings to this difficult work and the sheer fun these educational sessions hold for our patients.

She treats her patients and their families with the utmost dignity and respect. It is as though the people for whom she’s caring are the only ones who matter. Her calm, quiet manner rubs off on patients and caregivers, quieting their nerves and helping them feel competent in their newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Sue’s expertise in cancer care, coupled with her gift for teaching, not only benefit our patients at Nebraska Medicine but also have helped influence cancer care in our state. Sue was the first nurse in Nebraska to be trained for the American Cancer Society’s I Can Cope program. For many years, she served as an instructor for the ONS chemotherapy and biotherapy certification class, teaching our own nurses and those across Nebraska. She is our institutional expert on chemotherapy administration and has been instrumental in ensuring that our organizational policies align with the American Society of Clinical Oncology/ONS chemotherapy administration standards.

Sue has authored numerous posters and presented at various local, regional and national conferences on critical issues affecting oncology nursing. In 1999, she co-chaired the first international symposium on peripheral stem cell transplantation, held in Omaha, Nebraska, and willingly agreed to co-chair the second symposium in 2002. Sue has helped coordinate the oncology portion of one of the Optum conferences held every other year in Omaha and looks for innovative programs and evolving technologies to showcase. Sue ensures that participants leave with a wealth of new knowledge.

Not only is Sue dedicated to advancing cancer nursing, but she also takes responsibility for her colleagues’ growth. She is always willing to answer questions about chemotherapy and ensures that the staff member fully understands the answer. Through the years, Sue has taken new employees, student nurses and visiting nurses under her wing, sharing her time and talents. As an oncology certified nurse, she is a mentor and highly regarded by all members of the health care team.

Although Sue devotes her heart and soul to nursing, she strives to maintain a sense of balance, practicing what she preaches to the patients. Her incredible love for family is ever present. She loves spending time with family and planning family gatherings. Sue is a die-hard Huskers fan (please don’t hold that against her) and loves baseball almost as much, some days maybe more. All these activities reenergize her to deliver the highest level of care.

It is impossible to adequately describe in less than 1,000 words the type of nursing professional that Sue Wardian Hartung embodies and what she has done for oncology nursing at Nebraska Medicine. Her passion for nursing and the quality she brings are the cornerstones of care. Sue elevates nursing to an art form that is desperately needed. In today’s world, it is uncommon to find someone who has dedicated her entire career to one organization and one specialty area of nursing, particularly one as challenging and yet rewarding as caring for patients with cancer and their families. On a daily basis, Sue delivers on Nebraska Medicine’s promise of “serious medicine, extraordinary care.”

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