When you work in one of the world’s largest cancer care centers, as well as the one highest ranked for cancer care in the U.S. (by U.S. News and World Report), to earn an award amongst your peers is a major accomplishment.
That is the honour Fairmont, Antigonish County native and St. F.X. alumnus Frances MacDonald was recently bestowed with when she was selected for the 2018 Brown Foundation Award for Excellence in Oncology Nursing at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre.
Literature used during the presentation ceremony speaks directly to the award.
“Notably MD Anderson’s highest nursing honour, the award recognizes nurses who exude excellence in all aspects of oncology; from continually providing superior patient care to following the highest standards in clinical treatment.”
MacDonald, speaking to the Casket from her Texas home Dec. 14, said she didn’t even realize she had been nominated by her peers and colleagues until being informed she was one of three finalists.
“I received an email from Dr. Carol Porter who is the chief nursing officer saying I was one of three finalists; so that was really like an ‘oh my gosh,’ moment,” MacDonald, a clinical nurse in the GI-Colorectal Centre at the hospital, said.
“You come to work every day, try and take care of your patients and do a good job; so to actually be recognized for what we do every day is really a huge honour. Especially at such a huge institution and one so reputable; this is really a huge honour.”
In the citation talking about MacDonald as a recipient, it was noted she “collaborated with peers in the GI Centre to create the Bereavement Committee, which provides personalized grief support.”
She talked about the work of the committee.
“To let families know that, after their loved one passed away, we were still thinking about them and wanted to support them,” she said.
“We care for these patients every day and they become part of our family, so we wanted to be able to honour the patient by reaching out to support the family as well.
“Send a bereavement package to them, which includes resources where they can be reaching out to social workers and other resources in the community, which can help them with the grieving process; because everybody goes through the grieving process at a different time frame.”
She talked more about honouring patients through the committee.
“The patients are always nervous about the loved ones they’ll leave behind; what’s going to happen to them, are they going to be OK. I think it honours them to know we’re also supporting them [loved ones] after they have passed,” MacDonald said, adding it can be “therapeutic” for the clinicians as well, as they take comfort in helping the families through part of the grieving process.
MacDonald noted her nursing philosophy can be summed up in one word – “empathy” – and her ability to understand and relate to a lot of what her patients are going through comes from the fact she is a breast cancer survivor.
“It [being a cancer survivor] is part of me, part of my journey and I feel, to become a good nurse, you have to be an empathetic person,” she said.
“I think if you’ve been diagnosed, have been a patient, and are working in this institution, it’s an interesting journey to go through. Having been through what I have; I’ve always felt like I’m an empathetic person but it has made me even more empathetic.”
MacDonald said she shares her story if she feels it will help a patient.
“When I go to work I don’t talk about my story but, sometimes, I do tell my story to certain patients who might need a little bit of encouragement,” she said.
“They may be like, I don’t know if I can do this; we have a lot of young patients. If I feel like it’s appropriate to share a little bit of myself to encourage a patient, then I will do that.”