Residency program for oncology research nurses eases transition to second career

Suzanne Phillips enjoyed 26 years working for Dow Chemical Co., much
of that time as a researcher in product development. It was a thrill
to see packaging that her team had developed on the shelf of her local
grocery store.

But a desire to directly impact people, specifically cancer
patients, was calling her.

That aspiration led her to nursing school and, ultimately, to her
work as a research nurse resident, learning how to help
patients on clinical trials in our Lymphoma and Myeloma department.

Attract, develop, retain the best oncology research nurses

Phillips is a participant in a new Research Nurse Residency Program – the first of
its kind in the nation – launched at MD
in October 2016. The program is open to new nursing
graduates or nurses with less than one year of experience. They don’t
need to be embarking on second careers, but the program is drawing the
interest of nurses like Phillips.

The goal of the program, modeled after our successful Clinical Nurse Residency Program, is to attract,
develop and retain research nurses. The residency consists of a
four-week orientation phase followed by a 12-month residency program
within a department. It includes more than two weeks of classroom
learning throughout the year.

“A vital role” for patients in clinical trials

Research nurses play a vital role for the 9,400 patients enrolled in
MD Anderson’s more than 1,000 clinical trials.

“Being a research nurse is a very hard job,’’ says Lore Lagrone,
administrative director, protocol research, Lymphoma and Myeloma.
“It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. Your satisfaction comes from making
all the pieces fit.”

“The perception is that research nurses are ‘wall huggers’ because
others see them waiting in the halls to talk with a patient or a
doctor,” Lagrone adds. “But you don’t see all of the 40 gazillion
things that have to get done on the other side.”

Among those “gazillion things’’ are matching the right patient with
the right study; ensuring proper patient consent; coordinating testing
and appointments; evaluating how the patient is responding to the
protocol; finding solutions to a patient’s side effects; and
documenting, documenting, documenting.

Qualified and then some

The residency program has attracted “exceptionally qualified’’
applicants, says Denise Erdman, clinical research supervisor,
Radiation Oncology. Seasoned candidates pursuing second careers bring
valuable attributes.

“The freshness that a new nursing graduate brings is exciting,’’
Erdman says. “But the maturity and life experience of those seeking
second careers are great traits also. They are eager learners, very
motivated and proactive in seeking answers.”

Research nurses help change the standard of care

For Phillips, having a research background provides a comfort zone.

“For me as a researcher, this is a great fit. I’ve been in the lab
testing things before, and you use a lot of the same tools and
approaches. I understand how to put together a multidisciplinary team.’’

“But one of the joys of this job is developing a long-term
relationship with patients and their families,’’ Phillips says. “When
they’re so grateful to be here, that’s so rewarding. You really are on
the frontline of this patient’s treatment.”

A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger,
MD Anderson’s quarterly publication
for employees, volunteers, retirees and their families.

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