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Pediatric Oncology

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Pediatric Oncology Nurse: Suzanne Stone

Stone

When Suzanne Stone was in high school, she was drawn to biology and human sciences, thinking she would become a physician. Her big sister, now a pediatric resident, was two years ahead of her at school and became a child life volunteer at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Stone was inspired by this and followed suit.  During that time, at 15 or 16, she realized that nurses do what she thought doctors did. “They have a subset of patients that they get to know,” says Stone. “They understand what’s normal for that patient, what makes them comfortable, what is stressful. As a nurse, you walk the journey with them.” During her internship, Stone encountered many oncology patients and knew she wanted to work with these children. “The children and their families have such a love of life, such joy. They show incredible resilience and ability as a family unit. The disease doesn’t define the family; life goes on.” 

Stone went to Georgetown University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing science. By the fall of 2008, after graduation, she was working at Johns Hopkins as an inpatient pediatric oncology nurse. “I love the acute care of being an inpatient nurse. I enjoy the continuity over the long treatment span, with many admissions. For me, being an inpatient nurse has the benefit of the long-term relationship that a clinic nurse also enjoys, plus the time I spend at the patient’s bedside, in their room, monitoring them, caring for them and their families. It is very rewarding.”

As a pediatric oncology nurse, Stone believes in the holistic care of her patients: “There is a commitment from the nurses to all the patient’s needs and those of the family, to address individual needs that may be different from the needs of others.” Sometimes, that need is as seemingly simple as enabling a sick child to be, just that, a child, even when he is not feeling 100 percent. Stone learned this very early on, when she was a child life volunteer. “The nursing staff was committed to, and advocates for, the needs of the patient beyond those recorded on the chart. They facilitated trips off the floor, maybe to see the famous Jesus statue, or just time for the family to be together.” She continues to see the great humanity in a situation that could be so faceless — this scan, that med, yet another procedure. “It’s an honor to work with these patients and their families. We learn more about the human condition than we give. The amount of growth, in both directions, is huge. My feelings about this haven’t changed over the last 12 years.”

Stone is pleased that, in the new Children’s Center, the clinic is just across the hallway. She enjoys receiving visits from patients who no longer need inpatient care. “And we can walk over to liaise with our clinic colleagues about an admission, for example, and run into patients when they are doing well. It is good to be reminded that there is light at the end of the tunnel, good for the resilience of the nurses.”

When treatment doesn’t go according to plan and end of life must be considered, Stone says that it remains difficult, and that is a good thing. “We keep our humanity. It’s not about checking boxes and getting tasks done. I don’t want it to be easy.” She sees her role, when that time comes, to help the patient and family to identify their own resources, their own support systems. “We encourage the families to look after themselves in order to help their child. When I do that successfully, I also know that when my relationship ends with the family, they will have what they need to keep going.” 

The pediatric oncology nurses are a tight-knit team. “We have good intuition about each other’s needs and growing awareness among ourselves and the other disciplines within the care team that, sometimes, we need to take a pause, give some grace and support.” 

“We also need to take care of ourselves,” says Stone  She has learned that meditation can help her with the ups and downs of pediatric oncology nursing: “It helps me stay present and not spin out of control when there is chaos around me. Laurie Rome, our expert on nurse resilience, says ‘refill your own cup’ when you have time away from the unit.”  

Stone stays busy when she is away from her patients. She just finished her graduate degree in health systems leadership and management at the University of Maryland. She teaches the nursing students from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing when they are on their pediatric rotation. She also precepts, the thorough orientation for a nurse new to the unit. “My own preceptor and then mentor was Anna Walbert. She recognized that my teaching helps me to learn. I had a fear of what to do in an emergency, and Anna said, ‘Teach that!’ I did, and now I instruct nurses in CPR and advanced life support.” 

On the pediatric oncology unit, the nurses are responsible for ensuring their own professional development in a very supportive environment. “We can stay current with the great resources in the Johns Hopkins library, and there are classes from two clinical nurse specialists who prepare the team to be ready for what is new in the field. We present specific procedures to our colleagues regularly and the case history of a primary patient each year.” The nurses are also required to participate in a committee of their choice. Stone is a member of several, including a hospitalwide medication safety committee. She works with the pharmacists and colleagues from adult units on how to integrate best practices. As a representative of pediatric nursing, Stone says, “it’s imperative to have a pediatrics voice. The needs of our patients are so different from the rest of the hospital.”