We recently spoke with Melissa Culligan, RN, MS, a mesothelioma nurse at the University of Maryland and a member of the Meso Foundation’s Board of Directors, 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?
I currently work at the University of Maryland Medical Center in the Division of Thoracic Surgery. I have been a thoracic surgery nurse for 30 years. My titles / roles are: Clinical Instructor in Surgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Director of Clinical Research, Division of Thoracic Surgery, Program Administrator, Division of Thoracic Surgery and I serve as the Chair of the International Thoracic Oncology Nursing Forum. I have many roles and responsibilities but deep down inside, I am a nurse, and I truly love my work.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a nurse? What is the most difficult?
The most rewarding aspect of being a nurse for me is being able to use my knowledge and experience to help patients and their families through difficult times. Caring for patients who are having problems caring for themselves, who need education and guidance and who trust you with their lives is a tremendous responsibility and honor and is why I became a nurse and have continued to work full time as a nurse for the past 30 years.
I would have to say the most difficult aspect of my work is witnessing people dying from cancer and sharing the heartache with their families and loved ones. That is a part of my work that has never gotten easier and possibly has become harder for me over the years.
Why did you decide to become a nurse and how did you end up working with mesothelioma patients?
I decided to become a nurse because I loved biology and anatomy class in 10th grade. Sister Karen was my teacher and she was awesome. She sparked my interest in pursuing an education in a health care related field. Also, my father told me I could not become a horse trainer (which is what I really wanted to do) and that I had to do something more meaningful with my life. So I became a nurse, but I still ride my horse every chance I get. As for how I became interested in mesothelioma, I crossed paths with Dr. Joseph Friedberg in 1997. I have worked side-by-side with Dr. Friedberg for the past 20 years. He is an amazing teacher, an extraordinary surgeon/doctor and an inspirational leader in the field of mesothelioma. Caring for mesothelioma patients and their families is by far the most rewarding and meaningful work I can imagine doing.
Is the reality of nursing what you imagined when you decided to become a nurse?
No, not even close. I could never have imagined where my nursing education would lead me and the tremendous experiences and opportunities that have come my way. I have had the great fortune of traveling the world to teach nurses about caring for mesothelioma patients, learning something new every day, taking care of some of the bravest and most honorable people in the United States and working with extraordinary experts in the field of mesothelioma.
What role do nurses play in cancer research and why is it important?
Nurses are on the frontline of all patient care and we play very important roles in cancer research. Nurses coordinate clinical trials, serve as Principle Investigators, educate patients and families about the importance of clinical trial participation and support them through the process.