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Year of the Nurse: Oncology Nurse and Teacher

Published on Jul. 13, 2020

In June, Kathy Priest, RN, OCN, celebrated 33 years at Munson Medical Center -- all caring for cancer patients.

The Northwestern Michigan College graduate initially had her mind set on becoming a teacher but time and money intervened. Then it dawned on her that as a nurse she would still be instructing others.

“I realized that a career in nursing is one of the greatest opportunities to teach not only my patients, but their families as well,” she said. “I teach every day, just not elementary students.”

Year of Nurse
During this World Health Organization-designated "Year of the Nurse and Midwife" in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, she has appreciated her profession in a new light as well as learned new things.

“The coronavirus does not discriminate if you are young or old, rich or poor, healthy or have compromised health issues. It seeks out any person’s body that it can, and plays havoc with that person and their health,” she said. “As patients navigate through their difficult journeys, the nurse has the responsibility to be the compassionate person.”

Because of the pandemic, loved ones have not been able to be with patients in the cancer center. That means nurses are often the ones in the room with the patient when they are diagnosed with cancer, being treated for multiple illnesses, or at the end of life. Their knowledge and compassion has made a difference in the patient’s experience.

Her Calling Confirmed
For Kathy, the first confirmation that she chose the right profession came as she worked as a nursing student on the hospital’s oncology unit taking care of a patient diagnosed with leukemia. “One day while sitting in his room talking, he said to me, ‘Thank you for everything that you are doing for me and my family’. There was a moment of silence. I then replied, ‘No, thank you.  You have taught me to be thankful for so many things. Each day when I leave here and go home, I hug my family and tell them how much I love them. You are what makes this experience of nursing so very rewarding. I know that I won’t cure everyone but I might be able to make their day a little better.’”

“We hugged each other and embraced the true meaning of caring,” she said. “At that moment, I realized that I would care for the most special patients, those with cancer.”

Challenges and Rewards
Kathy sees nursing as a special calling for anyone interested in a career that involves changes, challenges, and rewards. Throughout Munson Healthcare there are many different nursing opportunities.

“The one common denominator for all is that nurses hold true to their values and strengths. As they walk down the halls of their unit, they are surrounded by peers who have helped to shape their careers,” she said. “At the end of a difficult day it becomes clear and encouraging words are shared that ‘we made a difference.’”