The Stanford Cancer Center is widely known for its advanced clinical care, scientific research, and surgical innovations, and is consistently recognized as one of the top hospitals in America for cancer care by US News & World Report. The center brings together world-class specialists and sophisticated technology to offer patients cutting-edge treatments, access to a wide range of clinical trials, and the efficiency of a single, convenient location.
The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA (TON) spoke with Traci L. Clark, RN, BSN, OCN, PHN, Oncology Nurse, Stanford Cancer Center and Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Bay Area, CA, about her roles and responsibilities at the center, some of the rewards and challenges of her job, and what she is currently excited about in the field of oncology.
Ms Clark: The advice I heard in high school was to try to make your vacation your vocation. I knew that I really enjoyed my science classes and I also loved working with people. However, I somehow ended up being a business major at community college. Prior to starting my last semester, I realized that I did not feel confident with that major. The week before classes began, I called my aunt who was a pediatric nurse. She said that she had never regretted becoming a nurse and still frequently used the skills she gained from that profession in her day-to-day life. I was sold and managed to complete all my prerequisites for nursing prior to transferring to San Diego State University, CA.
Ms Clark: As a per diem nurse coordinator, I cover for many of the different oncology specialties, including medical oncology, urologic oncology, gynecologic oncology, breast surgery, plastic surgery/reconstruction, cutaneous oncology/supportive dermatology, and lymphedema surgery. My duties include triaging phone calls from symptomatic patients, responding to MyHealth online messages, and providing patient education related to infusions and surgeries in the specialty clinics. I also work to enhance coordination between our providers and various disciplines to ensure that everyone is working synergistically, including with outside providers.
Ms Clark: Over the course of my career, I have heard from many patients that thh4 most difficult parts of their cancer journey are waiting to hear the treatment plan and the period of time before treatment begins. Sometimes patients imagine scenarios that are much worse than the reality. I find it very rewarding to help calm patients’ fears and explain the information in a way that is accurate and beneficial. I also enjoy offering helpful tips that I have acquired throughout the years. It is especially rewarding when I am able to give a patient good news, such as a clear 6-month follow-up mammogram.
Ms Clark: The pandemic has resulted in more public health challenges and exhaustion than I have experienced in my lifetime. I actually gave birth to my daughter during the 2-week local “shelter in place” order in 2020. I have worked hard to balance being a healthcare worker with trying to stay present and emotionally available for my 2 young children and my husband. some days it is very challenging.
I do not consider my work as a nurse complete when I clock out for the day. I believe that being a nurse represents who someone is, not just what they do. This has been especially true during the pandemic. Therefore, in my spare time, I post healthcare research and helpful tips on Instagram (@PoppieLady) and my website, PoppieLady.com.
Ms Clark: I am very excited about the advent of biotherapy and immunotherapy for various types of cancer. For years, I have had to explain to patients that the standard chemotherapy they were prescribed would target all actively dividing cells, not just cancer cells. To be able to tell them that we have figured out a way to supercharge the immune system to target cancer cells more specifically is thrilling. There have been significant advancements in treating cancer during my career, which is incredible.
I am also excited about some of the new surgical approaches (eg, placement of BioBridge scaffolds to treat lymphedema) that we can now offer patients to improve their quality of life after cancer treatment.
Ms Clark: As healthcare providers, we cannot give from an empty tank. I think it has been ingrained in us to always put the patient first, which is highly important, but misses a big piece of the puzzle. Nurses also need to care for themselves and their colleagues, whether it is learning to practice mindfulness, taking a weekend away, or getting involved as an advocate. During these stressful times, I would also encourage nurses to seek counseling services through their center’s employee assistance program if they feel it would be beneficial.
When we have taken the time to attend to our own physical, mental, and spiritual health, we are better equipped to provide comprehensive and compassionate care to our patients.
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