Keri McDevitt (c) with oncology nursing fellows (from left) Elizabeth Murtin, Nina Solis, Louisa Elliott, and Amelia Karlin.

For the third year, the Susan D. Flynn Oncology Nursing Fellowship at HUP has provided nursing students from Villanova and Penn with real-life oncology nursing experiences. The goal is to help stimulate the career interest and foster the professional develop of potential oncology nurses. Frederick Flynn, Jr established the program in memory of his wife, who lost her battle to cancer in 2013.

For the first time this year, HUP offered the fellowship to four nursing students instead of three. The participating students were Amelia Karlin and Nina Solis from Penn’s School of Nursing and Louisa Elliott and Elizabeth Murtin from Villanova’s School of Nursing.

The eight-week program exposes the students to the entire continuum of cancer care – both inpatient and outpatient services – and includes shadowing experiences in oncology units, in radiation oncology, chemo infusion, palliative care and, for the first time, oncology research. “We show them what it is like on a day-to-day basis,” said Keri McDevitt, MSN, OCN, Nursing Quality coordinator. “Nursing school curriculums only touch on oncology as a specialty. That’s why the Fellowship is so important.” And, spending time with patients on care units allows the students to “work on their communication skills and build relationships.”

Each fellow is also responsible for a research project on some aspect of oncology nursing. Elliott discussed the importance of educating oncology nurses on the risk of toxic exposures when handling chemotherapy bags and on improving their safety compliance (e.g. using the correct personal protective equipment) when working with chemotherapy.  Murtin’s project focused on implementing a yoga program for oncology inpatients to reduce anxiety and depression, through group sessions, individual sessions (for patients in isolation) and audio tapes or online resources.

Frederick Flynn, who established HUP's Oncology Nursing Fellowship, at this year's closing ceremony.

Oncology patients often experience sleep deprivation because the nursing staff generally check vital signs every four hours, around the clock. And that could lead to longer hospital stays. Solis created a sleep deprivation algorithm that could target patients who have had stable vital signs for 72 hours – with no fevers – and might be able to skip midnight vital signs .

Karlin highlighted the benefits of a peer mentorship program for allogeneic bone marrow transplant patients (those who are receiving someone else’s stem cells, not their own). The idea would be to pair these patients with survivors who could provide first-hand information about the transplant process – before and after -- and “insider” tips. “It would reduce fear of the unknown.”

McDevitt said this nursing fellowship can be the impetus to steer a nursing student towards this specialty. Indeed, all three of last year’s participants are following that path. Two are coming back to HUP and one will go to UCSF Medical Center.