May is National Nurses Month
Roswell Park’s 742 nurses fill many different roles. Some specialize in delivering chemotherapy or caring for bone marrow transplant patients. Others help patients manage pain or stress, support surgeons in the operating room, coordinate clinical research services, or teach patients and families about issues critical to treatment and survivorship.
No matter where they serve in Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, they’re united under the direction of Mary Ann Long, MS, RN, Senior Vice President of Nursing. Long oversees the entire nursing staff inpatient care services, including in the hospital, ambulatory centers and case management — vital areas that provide comprehensive care for every patient.
A nurse for more than 34 years, Long was drawn to oncology nursing while still in nursing school after she saw how Roswell Park nurses cared for a friend who was a patient in the pediatric and adolescent unit.
“Other friends and I would visit him on weekends,” Long recalls. “I was really impressed by how kind the nurses were to him and always available to him. I also remember how patient the nurses were with us, his friends. They answered our questions and actually listened to us. That experience had a big impact on my decision to become an oncology nurse.”
"Just before I graduated, a faculty member asked me if I had a job,” Long says. “I said that I had a job at Roswell Park, and I remember her saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you will get an offer from another hospital.’ I replied that Roswell Park was my first choice.”
Long worked at Roswell Park for her entire nursing career, until she retired in 2012. She found herself restless in retirement, however, and began teaching middle-school health and science at a Buffalo charter school. Last March, she returned to Roswell Park to head the Department of Nursing and mount the effort to achieve Magnet designation, awarded for excellence in nursing.
The profession of nursing has changed dramatically from when Long first entered the profession.
“Nurses are more autonomous today and have a greater say in the care of patients,” she says. “Nursing plays a role in not only the delivery of care but also the assessment of how effective the care is. Nurses are strong advocates for their patients, and because nursing continues to be one of the most trusted professions, patients share information with their nurses.
"Today’s nursing care is evidence-based and focuses on better outcomes for patients. There are many opportunities for nurses to use their clinical skills, critical thinking skills and ingenuity to make healthcare better for patients and stronger for their colleagues.”
It is much more than a job, but rather a calling. It is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are many and profound. Oncology nursing provides the opportunity and privilege to interact with patients and their families at a difficult time in their lives. We are caregivers, cheerleaders, confidants and in many cases close friends.
Nursing is a profession that requires hard work, dedication and a compassionate demeanor. “It is much more than a job, but rather a calling. It is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are many and profound. Oncology nursing provides the opportunity and privilege to interact with patients and their families at a difficult time in their lives. We are caregivers, cheerleaders, confidants and, in many cases, close friends,” says Long.
Nothing brought that home like the past year’s pandemic and the challenges it brought to caring for such vulnerable patients.
“Our nurses played multiple roles during the pandemic, including healthcare provider, a close ally and, in many cases, quasi family member for the patient and liaison for the families,” Long says.
While the work became more difficult, these nurses rose to the challenge of the job while also bearing heavier burdens at home, she adds.
“Many took on the role of educator for their children while dealing with an unknown disease and an ever-changing environment. Nurses were the lifeline for patients and their families.”
In mid-December, Roswell Park began administering vaccines to employees, other healthcare workers in the community and first responders.
“This became another labor of love, where nurses not only administered the vaccine but also provided education on side effects and follow-up,” Long says. “The work required selfless dedication, as these individuals often worked long hours ensuring that doses were not wasted.”
Roswell Park nurses continue to advocate for peers and others to receive the vaccine to reduce the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. When you see nurses this month, please thank them for all they do.