Earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden brought his National Cancer Moonshot initiative’s “listening tour” to Seattle. Surrounded by eight internationally respected researchers and innovators, Angelique L. Richard, Ph.D., RN, chief nurse executive of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), served as the only nurse on the panel.
It’s clear why she was invited to participate. She leads the nursing program at one of the top five cancer centers in the nation, she has over 30 years of experience as a registered nurse, and she holds multiple degrees, including a doctorate in nursing science.
So when she had a literal “seat at the table” with the U.S. vice president, what did she say?
From Angelique’s perspective as a nurse, some of the most pressing issues for the “cancer moonshot” are patient access, as well as nursing education and nursing research.
Much of the dialogue around the “cancer moonshot” has focused broadly on research and scientific breakthroughs. Nurses, no doubt, play a vital role in the conduct of research. They also help patients with cancer navigate the system right now, on a day-to-day basis—from discussing treatment plans and clinical trials, to administering infusion and performing bone marrow biopsies.
That’s why Angelique spoke to the vice president about the need to improve patient access, as many patients struggle due to geographic or economic reasons. She believes developing great treatment options is no help to a patient who can’t access the care. She told the vice president,
“We have got to take care of patients who truly need specialized care like what is provided at SCCA.”
The issue of access is personal.
When her younger sister Apryl was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2012, Apryl was between jobs. That meant she was without health care insurance at a point in her life when she needed it most. Angelique knew all too well the physical and emotional journey that lay ahead of her sister and family. But she was also concerned about the potential financial toll. Fortunately, they were able to not only take advantage of a Susan G. Komen grant for Apryl’s mammogram, but also take advantage of legislation newly passed in Illinois, where her sister lives, that covered uninsured breast cancer patients’ treatment. Those two resources were a huge help. But she worries about the other patients in Apryl’s situation who aren’t as familiar with the resources available.
Investing in oncology nurses is an investment in the backbone of cancer care.
During the panel, Angelique was asked to comment on the role nurses play in chronicling a patient’s reaction to therapies and how nurses are a part of the decision-making process of a patient’s treatment plan. Oncology nurses are very specialized and have a diverse range of professional skills. She commented that support for specialized nursing programs should be a priority—for the highly specialized care they provide and for the important research they conduct. She is, herself, committed to conducting clinical research and knows the research conducted by nurses has a unique role in the future of cancer care. Their day-to-day interaction with patients makes them experts in understanding how therapies impact a patient’s mind, body and spirit.
When she reflects on what drew her to join Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in 2014, she was impressed by the organization’s historic commitment to nurses practicing at the top of their license, and the organization’s value of their role in research. Part of SCCA’s three-year Nursing Strategic Plan, which she spearheads, involves providing even more resources for professional growth and development. That includes deepening partnerships between nurses and the schools of nursing in the region. It also includes scholarships, like SCCA’s “Future of Oncology Nursing Scholarship Program,” that was designed to help ensure the best and brightest students have support to enter the profession. She hopes more organizations make similar investments.
Nationwide celebrations for the #1 trusted profession has ties to the Pacific Northwest.
Nurses are the #1 trusted profession in the country. During the panel discussion, Biden praised nurses and, specifically, those who cared for his oldest son, Beau Biden, before his death from brain cancer last year at age 46. “If there are any angels in heaven, they are all nurses,” he said.
Patients know their nurses are an essential partner in their care. That’s why so many patients nominate nurses for the Daisy Award, a national program started by the family of a patient from Angelique’s very own organization, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, in 1999. She’s proud of the fact that more than 2,000 healthcare facilities across all 50 state—and even 15 other countries—are committed to honoring nurses with the DAISY Award.
“Nurses serve as personal guides to patients, their families, and even our region, in how to prevent, treat and recover from cancer. I look forward to continuing the legacy of high-caliber nurses at SCCA, and in our region. What an honor to know the Pacific Northwest had the first Daisy Award at SCCA, the first Magnet designated hospital at UW Medical Center, and some of the most compassionate professionals influencing the future of cancer care,” says Angelique.