We recently spoke with mesothelioma nurse Buerkley Rose, RN, of the University of Chicago to ask her some questions about her role in the field in honor of National Nurses Week and National Cancer Research Month. Here’s what she had to say:
At what institution do you work and what is your role there?
Currently, I work at the University of Chicago as an oncology nurse navigator/research nurse in the mesothelioma program. I care for mesothelioma patients from diagnosis, and help them and their families navigate their treatment plan. I am also in charge of navigating care for our mesothelioma patients on clinical trials. We have a multidisciplinary team including Dr. Hedy Kindler (oncologist), Dr. Kiran Turaga (peritoneal surgeon), Dr. Mark Ferguson (thoracic surgeon), Dr. Monica Malec (palliative care specialist), Dr. Aliyah Hussain (pathologist), Dr. Jane Churpek (cancer risk and prevention program), Dr. Sam Armato (radiology), Dr. Chris Straus (radiology), Dr. Renuka Malik (radiation oncology), and Brittany Beach, PA. My role involves coordinating and collaborating with our fantastic team to provide mesothelioma patients with a multidisciplinary approach to their treatment and care.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a nurse? What is the most difficult?
Being a nurse is both an extremely rewarding and difficult profession. The most rewarding aspect of my role as a nurse is that every day I get to make a difference in someone’s life. As an oncology nurse, I think being part of an individual’s battle with cancer is deeply moving and life changing. It is an honor to be their caregiver and the person that patients trust and can turn to in their most challenging day to day struggles. It also makes you realize how precious life is. The most difficult aspect of working in oncology, specifically with mesothelioma, is losing someone you cared for as if they were your own family.
Why did you decide to become a nurse and how did you end up working with mesothelioma patients?
I became a nurse because I wanted to change the world. Some may find that ambitious, but I truly feel that nurses change the world one patient at a time. Every nurse does something, big or small, every day to make a difference in someone’s life, and that truly does change the world. When I graduated nursing school, I really wasn’t sure what area of nursing I wanted to work in. I started at a small community hospital in the suburbs of Chicago where my first role was on an inpatient oncology/medical surgical floor. I instantly fell in love with oncology nursing. It really was by chance that I ended up in oncology, and I am glad I did. I worked with patients with all types of cancer at the time, and was directly involved when they needed chemotherapy in the hospital or were sick due to complications of the cancer. After a few years, I realized that I didn’t just want to see patients when they weren’t feeling well or just when they needed treatment. I wanted to be a part of the whole journey. I began to look for nursing roles that would allow me to be a part of the journey, and that’s how I ended up as an oncology nurse navigator and research nurse at the University of Chicago working with mesothelioma patients.
Is the reality of nursing what you imagined when you decided to become a nurse?
The first thing I said when I was a new nurse after about a week on the hospital floor was “Wow. Nothing in nursing school could’ve prepared me for this.” I was open to any experience, and my nursing education definitely prepared me for many aspects of the profession, but some things you can only really learn through experience. I have to say that some of the most unexpected situations gave me the best experience as a nurse. I also never imagined that my career would lead me to the path of clinical trials and research, but I am SO glad it did.
What role do nurses play in cancer research and why is it important?
There is not enough room on the page for me to describe how important nurses are in cancer research, but I will try to summarize it in a nutshell. Nurses are the front line to cancer care. When a patient is initially diagnosed, it can be an emotionally charged moment where they need someone who can hold their hand, give them a hug, or just be there in whatever way they need to help them get through that initial moment. That is an oncology nurse. Then at that point, patients have to understand many pieces or their care such as navigating a treatment plan, keeping appointments straight, understanding side effects of treatment, knowing symptoms to report, and so many other things that they need someone to help them keep it all together. Nurses are the anchor of cancer care, and even more so in cancer research. Patients on clinical trials have to manage those pieces of cancer treatment, then multiply them because they have additional blood draws, side effects, and other appointments to keep track of that are required by the trial. Again, nurses are the key to unlocking the door of understanding for patients during what can be considered one of the most physically and emotionally demanding journeys in their life. Nurses incorporate their experience and knowledge from being the anchor and the key so to speak into cancer research. Nurses use their role to help figure out how to make patient experiences better, and how we can modify treatments that make the journey smooth and easier. In research, nurses not only contribute their knowledge and experience, but also directly take part in creating research projects and clinical trials that ultimately change the future of treatment for many different cancers.