Oncology Nurses: The True Champions of Humanistic Medicine

Oncology Nurses: The True Champions of Humanistic Medicine

Prateek Mendiratta, MD

Apr 18, 2017

The idyllic landscape interspersed with sounds of crowds cheering after the ball enters the hole means that Masters has returned. This annual golf tournament ushers in the transition from winter to spring and revitalizes our spirit and vitality. I have always been amazed by the intimate and necessary bond between a caddie and a golfer. The caddie guides the golfer through the ebbs and flows of the round and serves as his metronome to maintain his timing and tempo. After every successful championship, the golfer always celebrates with his caddie first, since they know that, without them, there would be no victory. For oncologists to provide the best care to patients, we also need a “caddie” to guide and help us with our patients. I want to thank and pay tribute to the oncology nurses who are a true blessing and essential to providing exceptional care for my patients.

There is some order to the chaos of a busy oncology practice. Before patients are seen by the doctor, they are usually roomed by a nurse, who sets the tone of the visit. Patients with cancer battle with courage and dignity daily, yet they can’t do the heavy lifting alone. During this time, the patients need someone to listen so they can release their fears and concerns. The nurse handles this responsibility, bravely humbly, and serves as that voice to support, encourage, and advocate for the patients. They triage the essential problems, and direct and reinforce the patient’s message to the doctor. The nurse also can sense if a patient is critically ill and needs to be taken care of urgently. This skill comes with time and experience, and I have been amazed by the grace with which the nurses work to make the patients feel their concerns are addressed.

The next step, before I go in to see the patient, is huddling with the nurse. I can’t stress how important these few seconds or minutes are to make the visit a success for me and for the patient. This reminds of me of when a golfer consults with his caddie for advice and guidance before he hits his next shot. The nurse relays the essentials of things to look out for and guides me where to direct my questions and treatments. I am often amazed at how nurses are able to get information that patients never feel comfortable telling their doctor. We need to be aware of all their concerns to treat the patients effectively. Side effects of chemotherapy, financial burdens, challenges with transportation to appointments, sexual side effects, and family issues are all some of the topics that the nurse teases out and reminds me to address that I may not focus on myself. This information-sharing and guidance allows me to be a better doctor to my patients, all thanks to my nurse.

I have seen firsthand and learned about the skill of practicing humanistic medicine from my nurses. I could fill a whole blog with stories of how they place our patient’s well-being first, and I am truly humbled each day by their selflessness and dedication. They are truly the unsung heroes of my practice, for without them, we wouldn’t be able to give the care the patients deserve. I have seen nurses call patients after their first round of chemotherapy to just check in and make sure patients know they are never alone, and work proactively to prevent future problems. I have seen them spend countless hours working with transport services or sometimes even rally among themselves to pay for transportation services for our patients. I have seen nurses visit families and patients during their off hours at the hospital or at home when complications occur, bringing a familiar face to ease our patients. I have seen them pray with and embrace our patients to provide strength and support when times are tough. I have been touched by them speaking at funerals and memorial services to honor the memory and heroism of our patients.

Not a day goes by that patients don’t tell me how valuable nurses are. The patients often request that the nurse be present for their appointment, since they are an essential part of the team. That familiar face and guiding presence that the nurse offers clearly brings peace of mind to the patients and their family. Some of my patients even tell me, “Doc, your plan sounds good, but what does our nurse think?” This is a clear testament to the strength of that bond between the nurse and the patient. Stop by during the holidays and you will see that bond embodied by the multitude of treats and gifts that patients provide our nurses as a small gesture of gratitude for the immense services they provide over the year. To work with these amazing nurses every day is truly a privilege, and something I try never to take for granted.

The Masters tournament ends with the coveted green jacket being placed on the winner in a moment captured around the world. In medicine, we don’t get those green jackets, yet are blessed since every day we get feedback from our patients when we help them. Nothing brings me more happiness than when I can help a patient along their journey. I also realize that I am not able to accomplish that without a whole lot of help and support from my nurses. They are the real lifeline of my clinic and are the true advocates for my patients from the moment they begin their cancer journey. They guide our patients and they guide me also, enabling me to focus on what is important for my patients and how I can best help them. They don’t get enough credit for what they do, yet I am sure my patients and I would be proud to honor them with their own green jackets that commemorate how valuable they are to us.

Originally published on Cancer Doc in Evolution; reprinted with permission.


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