“I have the best job anyone can ask for”: House named Nurse of the Month for February

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Mary Colleen House, middle, holds flowers and a framed certificate as Roswell Park's Nurse of the Month for February 2022.

With a long family history of healthcare professionals in her background, including a great-grandfather who helped establish Our Lady of Victory Hospital, Mary Colleen House, MSN, BSN, RN, never doubted she’d work in the medical field.

“I truly feel lucky to have a career that I love and, even on the most challenging and difficult days, I am motivated and honored to provide and advocate for the best care for my patients and their families,” she says. “I am a member of a team, working along with our other staff, the patients, their families and their friends, all of us working together toward the best outcome for the patient.”

House joined Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center 25 years ago to care for leukemia and lymphoma patients after earning her BSN degree at the State University of New York at Brockport and working as a nurse at Rochester General on a medical/surgical/long-term ventilator unit for several years. Her time at Roswell Park began on 6 East in the old hospital, which became 5 West in this current hospital.  “I was very fortunate to have Mary Ann Long as my nurse manager because her main focus was to help the nurses succeed in providing excellent care to our patients. Back then, and still today, I am surrounded by a very supportive nursing department staff on all levels, who have weathered many changes over the years but continue to fight daily to keep the focus on delivering quality care to our patients. This is what sets Roswell Park apart from other hospitals and why I work here.”

A strong call to continue a tradition of caring

For a while, House left Roswell Park to earn her master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner from D’Youville College and worked in the emergency room at another hospital, later moving to a pediatrician’s office to have more time at home with her young children. But the call to return to Roswell Park grew louder and she returned to join the team as a nurse in the Lymphoma/Leukemia/Infectious Disease clinic.  “I was working with many of the same types of patients and a lot of the same providers who I had worked with before on 5 West, so it was great. The new benefit was working with so many different specialties, and it enabled me to appreciate and admire the knowledge, abilities and skills and the compassion of the people who work at Roswell Park. Even on the most stressful days, patients and families get excellent care, because most of the staff focus on the patient and what is best for them, despite any obstacles that they may have to overcome to achieve this goal. I try to contribute to this goal daily, because I see that it works.”

House currently works with patients who are being treated for lymphoma, myeloma or sarcoma. She credits her team of dedicated nurses, NPs, PAs and physicians for inspiring her daily and encouraging her to keep learning and adding to her skills, but it’s her love of and dedication to her patients and Roswell Park that led to her selection as Nurse of the Month for February.

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“Mary Colleen is diligent about patient safety, always following policy, taking her time to do things the right way and paying attention to detail. She’s open to new ideas and ways to improve care given to her patients. She has recently been very helpful and willing to provide the newest therapies offered for prevention and treatment of COVID. She is committed to her patients, spending time teaching them about procedures and tests, making sure all of their questions are answered and keeping their best interests in mind,” says Jamie Henwood, MSN, BSN, AAS, RN, CMSRN, the Clinical Nurse Manager on 7 West. “You will often see her running patients to different departments, helping to turn over rooms and answering phones. One evening, she stayed well past her shift to sit with a patient waiting on a bed. She is always going the extra mile. If I were a patient, I would definitely want Mary Colleen as my nurse.”

The recognition came as a surprise to House because she feels there are many excellent nurses who are just as deserving and contribute just as much as she does on a daily basis. “I am part of a great team, and I know I am a better nurse and can do my job well because I am surrounded by all of these other nurses.”

Helping new nurses

Nurses typically spend the most time working closely with patients and families when an individual is diagnosed with cancer. They are with them during their daily struggles and their triumphs, and it is over months and years, not just a short period of time.  As a result, this can take a toll on them physically and emotionally because they care so much. “I feel it is important for my co-workers and new nurses to give their patients everything they have but also make sure to take time for themselves to ‘rejuvenate their soul’ when they go home so that they can to do it all over again the next day.”  She stresses that it’s important for nurses to recharge their batteries and keep a solid work-life balance so they can give the most compassionate care yet remain objective and logical to be the most beneficial to patients.

“We need to build a trusting relationship with our patients, and then, when they face their most challenging moments, they’ll know we will support them through it,” House says. Nurses also need to support one another and she believes that floating and being able to “walk in another nurse’s shoes” really helps to create a supportive working environment and improves the overall quality of patient care because they get a better sense of each other’s worlds and departments.

“I also embrace working with newer nurses for several reasons.  I want to make sure they are comfortable and trained well and at the same time I appreciate learning new things from them as they just finished nursing school and have new ideas and experiences to share. I know that some of us seasoned nurses may feel threatened by having new nurses working with them, but I encourage those workers that they should be excited to share their knowledge and skills so that new nurses can deliver the best care.

“I know that I am lucky to feel like I have the best job anyone could ask for,” she says. “Roswell Park is a place of hope and support, and we are helping people live with dignity.”