At the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+) Fifth Annual Conference, held in Orlando, FL, in September, one nurse was recognized by her peers for her commitment to the profession. Jessica Engel, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCNP, nurse practitioner and research assistant at the Marshfield Clinic in Stevens Point, WI, was the recipient of the 2014 Oncology Nurse Excellence (ONE) Award.
Nominated by Adedayo Onitilo, MD, PhD, MSCR, FACP, a physician and colleague at the clinic, Dr Engel is also an instructor in the doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) program at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh and Eau Claire. In addition, she has been actively involved in research for the past 8 years, serving as primary investigator, coinvestigator, and project manager, and producing more than 35 peer-reviewed publications. In making the nomination, Dr Onitilo cited Dr Engel’s role as a clinician, educator, and researcher.
“Dr Engel consistently receives excellent patient satisfaction reviews and goes to great lengths to ensure optimal care for her patients,” Dr Onitilo wrote. “She demonstrates her commitment to education as a professor, and her accomplishments in the field of oncology research set her apart.”
Following is an interview with Dr Engel.
Q: How long have you been a nurse?
Jessica Engel (JE): I have been a nurse in one form or another for a number of years. I graduated nursing school with my bachelor’s degree, and began working as an oncology nurse while I completed a master’s program to become a nurse practitioner. I then continued as a nurse practitioner in a hematology/oncology clinic and hospital setting. I moved to the Marshfield Clinic in Central Wisconsin, and I have worked in Stevens Point at the cancer center for the past 9 years. I went back to school and earned my DNP in 2013.
I came to nursing actually just at an appropriate time for me. Having always had an interest in science, I had earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. As I was beginning medical school, I learned about the job of nurse practitioner, and that seemed to be a much better fit for me, for what I wanted to accomplish for myself and for how I wanted to be able to take care of patients.
Q: What inspired you to become a nurse practitioner, and what path brought you to the position you are in now?
JE: My intention was always to do something in the science field. I considered engineering or something in math and science. But about a year and a half into college, when I was 19, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. That diagnosis helped turn me toward the medical field, something I had not considered before.
I really respected the doctors, nurses, and other people who cared for me, especially the knowledge they had about the process of diagnosis, treatment options, and the science behind all of that information. Early on in my experience with Hodgkin lymphoma, though, I began to understand that the importance of considering the emotional and interpersonal impact of a new cancer diagnosis can be just as important as understanding the science of oncology.
Patients are trying to understand their diagnosis and how it has, and will, impact the other parts of their life, and at times they might be unsure how to relate to or explain how they feel to the people who are trying to care for them. As I considered that, and my newfound interest in the medical field, it seemed the right thing for me to do was redirect my focus toward a career where I would be able to use my experiences as a patient as well as gain the knowledge as a healthcare provider to be able to help others as I was.
Q: What inspires you and motivates you each day?
JE: I really try to have a sense of purpose with all the work that I do. Most days that sense of purpose involves helping and supporting others, such as providing guidance for our patients to be the best that they can be or helping my coworkers do the best job they can so that they in turn can then provide better patient care and better services to our community.
Another strong motivator for me is the ability to contribute to patient care, staff development, physician practice, research projects, and nursing student education. In my teaching role, I like being able to teach nursing students to do a good job, and with the research work that I do, especially with publications, I like to be able to put knowledge and information out there for others to use. Those things are really important to me—to be able to come to work each day and know my time is worthwhile in those ways.
Q: What role do you think nurses have in clinical research and education? What impact does this have on patient care?
JE: As nurses often do not have the opportunity to conduct research independently, I think it is very important to understand that there is great value in becoming part of a research team; it allows nurses to see opportunities and make contributions they might not otherwise have been able to make. Nurses can contribute to a research team in a number of ways, such as the development of concepts and study ideas, or to assist with writing protocols and grant applications, participate with the implementation and conduct of studies, as well as be part of analysis and manuscript writing. By being part of a research team, a nurse is able to use the talents they have as well as learn more about the process of conducting studies overall. Nurses can participate in research in a number of other ways, such as a peer reviewer or by reviewing grant applications for larger funding groups.
With respect to nurses’ role in education, there are many opportunities that span the spectrum from nurses as learners, to nurses as teachers. Nurses can be classroom or clinical instructors. They can be preceptors. Nurses can develop continuing medical education programs, or can write articles for journals that would address areas helpful to educate the nurse readers. In this economic climate, where finances are tight and people are not always able to travel, online programs provide excellent opportunities for nurses seeking additional education. It is important for nurses to take the initiative and try to find educational opportunities that are cost-effective and time-effective. I would encourage nurses to always look for ways to build their knowledge base in their area of specialty, whether that is by obtaining relevant certification or advancing their formal education.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about the work that you do?
JE: I find it most rewarding to have the opportunity to be helpful in real and useful ways and to provide support to the patients and people who I work with. It is very rewarding to know that patients might learn new information; maybe I talked with them or saw them or did some kind of workup, and they have an understanding about their question or condition that they did not have before. In oncology you do not always deliver good news, but you can always try to make things understandable. You can always try to find something that can make the situation a little bit better, or a little more acceptable.
Working with colleagues in the clinic or in my research group, knowing that I support their interests, care, and work so that they are able to do a better job is very rewarding to me. I have learned that each bit of knowledge gained or each accomplishment builds on that before it, and each can be a stepping stone toward future opportunities. However, maybe the most important to me, is that I know I am fortunate that I find happiness in what I do. It is not just my job; being an oncology nurse practitioner and researcher is how I choose to live my life. I hope that some of my happiness, interest, and enthusiasm for my work are things that I am always able to share with others.
Q: What do you feel are the benefits of being a member of AONN+?
JE: What I have and will benefit from the most are the resources, support, and sense of community. I went to the annual meeting this past year and felt like I really belonged as part of that group. AONN+ has a strong focus on education and quality of care, as well as communicating the importance of certification and job definition. Developing and maintaining standards is very important for the field as a whole. Those are benefits that the organization provides not just to its members, but also to hiring organizations or the medical care community so that there are standards for nursing and navigation jobs. That makes it easier for more roles to be developed and for more people to be hired into those positions.
Q: How did you feel when you learned that you were nominated for the ONE Award? How did you feel when you won?
JE: Everybody has good days and not-so-great days, and the day I found out about the nomination, it had started off as one of those days that was a little too busy and a little too sad, and I could tell that it was going to be a harder day to get through.
When the email notification came about the nomination, though, all of that just vanished. I read the email a couple of times and realized what it meant. I had not been aware that I was being nominated, so it was a complete surprise. It felt very good that even as challenging as it gets, people really do appreciate your work. It was a nice reminder that day, and on many days since, that what I do is important and helpful to others. Reading the descriptions of the other nominees also made me think that this is a group of wonderful nurses, and I was so happy to be considered part of that group.
At the meeting, when the number of members was described, the impact of how many people who were part of the organization, and, therefore, how many received the email with our pictures and brief biographies really hit me as I was sitting in the audience. I actually felt a little shy at that moment as well as excited that I and my work had been considered by so many. When my name was announced, I said a silent thank you, meant especially to those who sent in the nomination, to all the other nurses who were nominated for their work, and to those who had voted. I was very proud and excited as I walked to the stage to accept the award.
Q: What advice can you give to other nurses, nurse navigators, or nurse practitioners, especially those who are just starting out?
JE: My best advice is to find someone who can be a mentor for professional development. Also, never stop learning how to be better as a nurse, as a navigator, as a nurse practitioner, or how to be your best self. Other advice that I would give, as it has served me well, is to always help each other and find ways to share your knowledge and resources. Be kind to your patients and to those who you work with. Be persistent, be creative, and be open to opportunities, because you never know what is going to come up next. Be professional and responsible, and try to become as knowledgeable as you can about your content material and about your field. Pursue education and pursue any certification that you think might be helpful.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to mention that we have not discussed?
JE: I am so very appreciative of being selected for this award, and very much thank AONN+ and the members of the organization for their overall recognition and promotion of quality nursing and improving patient care. I offer my gratitude also to the people who nominated me and to all those who I am fortunate to work with who support me in all the different ways that allow me to keep doing what I do. I also want to thank the award sponsors* for making this possible and for helping to bring such a wonderful group of people together at the annual meeting.
*ONE Award sponsors include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Eisai, Genentech: A Member of the Roche Group, Helsinn, Lilly, Pfizer Oncology, Takeda Oncology, and Teva Oncology.