Cancer Nurse Brings “Small Town Feel” to Large Academic Medical Center
“When I was just 13 years old, my dad had major heart surgery. And my mom had breast cancer when I was in high school,” said Heidi Stark, BSN, RN, OCN, a nurse coordinator at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center. “It was pretty life changing.”
These family experiences propelled Stark into a nursing career. Through her parents’ illnesses, Stark became all too aware of the difficulties patients may encounter within the healthcare system. “My mom never saw a medical oncologist,” Stark said. “She was told she had to have a mastectomy. She was never offered any options or told to get another opinion.” Back then, she said, patients were essentially on their own.
Fast forward to the present: As a nurse coordinator for the Prostate and Urologic Cancer Program, where she sees patients not only with prostate, but also with all other types of genitourinary cancers, Stark spends her days helping others avoid the sense of confusion and isolation that marked her parents’ illnesses.
“A lot of patients are fearful of coming to Froedtert & the Medical College, because it’s a big place,” Stark said. “I tell patients they don’t need to be concerned, because they can rely on a few key contact people here. We bring a small-town feel to a large academic medical center.”
Stark came to the Cancer Center after a 17-year career at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls. She worked with Medical College of Wisconsin radiation oncologist Julia White, MD at Community for nine of those 17 years. “I always said if I ever made a job change, I would consider Froedtert & the Medical College first, because I really believe in the physicians and the expertise they offer patients,” Stark said.
She came to Froedtert & the Medical College in February 2007 and has enjoyed learning the ropes. “Coming on board and finding my way – learning who the go-to people are – was challenging. Now imagine what it’s like if you’re diagnosed with cancer,” Stark said.
At the Froedtert & the Medical College Cancer Center, she uses her insider knowledge to help newly diagnosed patients navigate. “When patients are diagnosed with cancer, they may never have stepped into a healthcare system before,” Stark said. “I guide them through the journey and help them get the expert care they need. I don’t want anyone to say, ‘Oh, I should have seen that doctor, but never did, because it was never offered to me.’”
Stark tells her patients they can call her any time. “If I don’t have an answer, I’ll get one,” Stark said. “They’re really impressed. They know someone cares; they’re not just a number.”
Stark also encourages patients to bring family members to appointments. “Because I’ve been on the receiving end, I know what it’s like,” Stark said. “Granted, the patient is the one with cancer, but families experience it too. Our job is to support them and help them cope.”
Stark anticipates being happy in her position for a long time to come. “Being a nurse coordinator in this program is so perfect for me,” she said. “I’ve always had a nurturing personality. I really enjoy helping people.”
Source: Froedtert Today
Date: March 2008