As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, together with RWJBarnabas Health, has a singular focus and mission—to help patients fight cancer. With a team of internationally recognized researchers, physicians, and other oncology healthcare professionals, the center provides the most advanced, comprehensive, and compassionate world-class oncology care to adults and children.
The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA (TON) recently interviewed Kellie Zeichner, RN, BSN, OCN, Nurse Clinician Infusion Educator, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, who discussed her career path, some of the rewards and challenges of her job, what she is currently excited about in the field of cancer care, and the importance of achieving a healthy life/work balance.
Ms Zeichner: When I was in high school, I decided to volunteer as a candy striper at a hospital. That experience helped me to realize how much I enjoyed caring for patients. When it was time to enroll in college, I decided to pursue a career in nursing. While I was still attending college, I began working as a medical health technician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, an RWJBarnabas Health facility in New Brunswick, NJ, where I worked with patients in the open-heart intensive care unit, which I really enjoyed. However, one day, I was asked to work in the oncology department, where I cared for patients with cancer who were recovering from surgery. I knew almost immediately that these were the types of patients I was meant to work with.
After I graduated from college, I began working in the inpatient hematology/oncology unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. After 1 year, I became chemotherapy-certified, and ended up working in that unit for 10 years. I really have a passion for working with this patient population; I know it is what I am meant to do.
Ms Zeichner: I joined Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in 2015 and currently work as a Nurse Clinician Infusion Educator. One of the things that I love about my job is that I am able to help nurses find their passion and teach them how to be as effective as possible in their care of patients.
My job encompasses many roles. I onboard new staff members, develop educational materials as the need arises, and contribute to policy updates. I also work with the Nursing Education Department to facilitate new educational programs and promote professional development among our oncology nurses.
Ms Zeichner: Since I have worked in the nursing field for almost 20 years, I am very aware of the challenges and obstacles nurses face. I find it very rewarding to be able to share my experience and insights and help them hone their skills, so they can thrive in their careers. Each nurse is different, so it is very important to tailor mentoring and educational programs to meet their individual needs.
The outpatient setting is very fast-paced, and it can be difficult to engage nurses and meet their needs in this environment. The current nursing shortage and post-COVID effects have also taken a toll. We are very aware of this and work hard to find new ways to help our staff stay motivated and protect them from experiencing burnout.
We try to provide our nurses with as many resources as possible, so they can stay current on new procedures, medications, and technologies needed for them to perform their jobs.
Ms Zeichner: One of the things that I am really excited about is the nursing residency program that we plan on offering in collaboration with RWJBarnabas Health. The program will introduce new graduates to the profession of nursing by providing a hands-on introduction to the field. It will consist of nursing and clinical orientation followed by monthly sessions that provide needed support. Participants will be assigned to a registered nurse on staff who will share valuable insights into things such as a nurse’s caseload and day-to-day responsibilities. This will allow us to provide these new nurses with a solid foundation.
I am also excited about the new Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, New Brunswick, NJ, which is a state-of-the-art, freestanding cancer hospital that will offer patients a variety of advanced cancer care services all under one roof. This center is scheduled to open in 2025.
Ms Zeichner: When we talk to patients and their families about biosimilars, we typically hear 2 questions: “Why should I consider switching to a different drug if the drug I am currently on is already working well?” and “If these drugs are less expensive, does that mean they aren’t as good?” When these questions arise, I discuss the cost-savings associated with biosimilars, because they are less expensive to manufacture. I explain that biosimilars still go through rigorous clinical trial evaluation for safety and efficacy. Once patients really understand what biosimilars are and how they are developed, they are often open to switching, because these agents are just as safe and effective as the reference biologics yet have the added benefit of making healthcare more affordable for everyone, promoting health equity in cancer care.
Ms Zeichner: I think it is very important to find time for yourself and the things you enjoy. I love spending quality time with my family. Whenever possible, we try to do things outside in nature, such as going for a hike. I am also a runner, which helps to lower my stress and clear my head. I have 2 teenage daughters and I think it is very important to model for them how to find a healthy balance between caring for myself and my family, while at the same time being successful in my career.
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