Most cancer patients understand the critical role that nurses play in their care, but nurses’ contributions may not be as well recognized by the general public. To raise awareness, the New York Times commends nurses for their efforts through its annual “Tribute to Nurses” awards, with winners in five categories: education, leadership, innovation, research, and service.
This year, Memorial Sloan Kettering advanced practice nurses (nurses who have advanced degrees) Elizabeth Grahn and Ethel Law have been honored for their extraordinary achievements. Ms. Grahn is recognized as a winner in the education category, and Ms. Law as a finalist in the research category. Both are featured in a special advertising section in the December 9 New York Times Magazine.
Elizabeth Grahn, Award Winner in the Education Category
Ms. Grahn, a clinical nurse specialist certified in wound, ostomy, and continence (WOC), educates both patients and fellow nurses on how to care for complex wounds that result from cancer surgery.
“Nurses play such a significant role in patients’ recovery,” she says. “We teach our patients how to take care of themselves, and get them to a point where they feel comfortable going back to work and resuming their daily routines.”
As chair of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s pressure ulcer prevalence committee, Ms. Grahn is also responsible for analyzing and implementing ways to reduce pressure ulcers, or bedsores, hospital-wide. Since the committee formed in 2007, the prevalence of pressure ulcers has decreased considerably.
Ms. Grahn joined Memorial Sloan Kettering in 1999. She credits the institution and her nurse leaders for encouraging her to continue her nursing education and become certified in WOC. Since she joined the WOC group in 2007, three other nurses have obtained certification and five are currently in a certification program.
Ms. Grahn is also working toward earning her PhD degree in nursing. “Being recognized for my efforts in education is extremely gratifying because Memorial Sloan Kettering has been so supportive of my own continuing education,” Ms. Grahn adds.
Ethel Law, Finalist in the Research Category
Ms. Law, a nurse practitioner on the Gastric and Mixed Tumor Service, is investigating ways to improve quality of life in cancer patients following radiation therapy. Ms. Law was previously a member of the Radiation Oncology Service, where she began her research on this topic.
“So much of the work we do comes after treatment, when patients simply want to return to a sense of normalcy,” she says. “Our job is to make sure patients can maintain the same or a similar quality of life when they leave the hospital.”
Ms. Law, who joined Memorial Sloan Kettering in 1991, is the principal investigator of a study of women with colorectal and gynecologic cancers who have received radiation therapy to the pelvis. A side effect of this treatment can be a narrowing and shortening of the vagina, which can cause discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse and make it more difficult for doctors to perform pelvic exams.
Women are often instructed to use a tool called a vaginal dilator to minimize these changes, and Ms. Law has contributed to the development of several patient and caregiver educational materials on how to use this tool. However, little follow-up has been conducted to determine whether this therapy is effective.
Ms. Law’s study focuses on the long-term results of vaginal dilator therapy. She is hopeful that her work will shed light on vaginal dilator use and compliance, and ultimately improve patient outcomes.
Both Ms. Grahn and Ms. Law received a Samuel and May Rudin Award in May, during National Nurses Week at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“We could not be more proud or more thankful for the contributions Elizabeth and Ethel have made to Memorial Sloan Kettering,” says Elizabeth McCormick, Chief Nursing Officer. “We pride ourselves on the patient-centered care our nursing staff delivers, and this honor demonstrates that our staff is continually going above and beyond to bring the best care possible to our patients.”