Shirley Johnson: Nurses Are Scientists, Leaders, Patient Advocates

Friday, January 13, 2017 - 5:51pm

Roswell Park’s 627 nurses fill many different roles: Some specialize in giving chemotherapy or caring for bone marrow transplant patients. Others help patients manage pain or stress, support surgeons in the operating room, manage clinical research services, or teach patients and families about issues critical to treatment and survivorship.

No matter where they serve in the Institute, they’re all united under the direction of Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Shirley Johnson, MBA, MS, RN, who came to Roswell Park in October. Johnson also oversees the work of staff in patient care services, including clinical nutrition, rehabilitation services, case management, and social work — areas that work together to provide total care for every patient. “It’s been a joy to be able to get to know those teams in the short time I’ve been at Roswell Park,” she says.

A nurse for the past 33 years, Johnson entered oncology nursing 20 years ago, drawn by “being able to see the transition of great science into great care at the bedside.

“Working in a large academic medical center such as Roswell Park, you are able to see discoveries that are occurring on the science side being translated into new drugs or treatments. Often we can provide those treatments to our patients several years before they’re available in the general community. What motivates me on a daily basis is believing that in my lifetime we will continue to see advances in more cures for cancer.”

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Recognizing that research led by nurses helps raise the standard of patient care, Johnson adds, “I believe that every nurse is a scientist. I believe that every nurse is a leader as well.”

Experience has taught her that cancer “is a life-transforming disease. You hear from almost every patient what the diagnosis of cancer and the treatment have meant for them. To be able to help shepherd them through that process, it’s an extraordinary position to be in as a nurse.

“I also believe that the best decisions are made by individuals who are closest to our patients and families, so we’ll work hard to create a structure that really supports that in nursing practice. We are the advocates for patients, for caregivers.”

She’s building on a strong foundation. Press Ganey, a national leader in patient satisfaction research, reports that Roswell Park ranks in the 99th percentile nationwide for Overall Rating of Nursing. But Johnson is aiming even higher. “The science side of me is sparked by a sense of inquiry and the knowledge that we can do better tomorrow than we did today.”

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