Growing up with nurses in her family, Kimberley Munn, RN, BSN, OCN, was exposed to medical science and the art of helping others early on in life. During nursing school Kimberley worked on a pediatric cardiology unit, but decided to start her nursing career with an adult population to gain a broader view of medical/surgical care. An adult oncology unit had an opening and the rest is history. Today, Kimberley works as an oncology nurse at the Taussig Cancer Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and is an active member of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). Read on to learn about the everyday life of this new oncology nurse and why she loves her chosen specialty.
Nursing Notes (NN): Can you describe your career journey, and how you ended up as an oncology nurse?
Kimberley: My father is a pediatric nurse with a specialty in hematology, so growing up I would go with him to summer camps for children with hemophilia. This was a great introduction to nursing for me. I am a huge science nerd and feel compelled to serve others, especially those in vulnerable situations, and nursing seemed like the best way for me to be involved in both.
NN: What is something you wish people knew about oncology nursing?
Kimberley: Oncology nursing is not as disheartening as people think. The oncology patient population is very thankful for any help given to them. Imagine being diagnosed with cancer, feeling lost and scared – then a calm, smiling nurse comes into your life and helps you pick up the pieces. This nurse helps you get back on track with a plan and gives you permission to grieve or rage when necessary, but also permission to live. I cannot imagine doing any other type of nursing.
NN: Could you describe your day-to-day activities and responsibilities?
Kimberley: I work in an outpatient clinic with physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and we see patients who are enrolled in clinical trials. Visits with these patients typically consist of a quick assessment with a focus on discussing symptoms and educating the patient about the treatment. Much of my job is to ensure patient safety with new cancer treatments by managing side effects – very closely. I currently have patients in 11 open studies, as well as numerous patients that are in some type of post-study follow-up program. When studies have overall survival as an endpoint, we truly keep in contact with patients until death, which means some have been in the follow-up stage for more than 20 years! When I am not in the clinic seeing patients, I am at my desk working on opening new studies because we want every single patient that comes to our center to be offered a clinical trial. Clinical trials are not just for the end-of-the-road patients – we need them for patients at every stage of cancer to continue advancing the science of cancer care for every race, age, and gender.
NN: What is your favorite part of being an oncology nurse?
Kimberley: My favorite part is being a guide for overwhelmed and lost patients. It is humbling to be reminded of the simple joys of life many take for granted until they are faced with a serious diagnosis like cancer.
NN: As a new nurse, what best prepared you to begin your career in oncology?
Kimberley: Finding a mentor – I sought out the seasoned nurses who guided and coached others. Also, I often volunteered to complete a new task or procedure with someone next to me for support, which allowed me to learn and grow every day. Once I became a more seasoned nurse, it was exciting to turn around and be a support system for others. Sometimes all you need is a person next to you, encouraging you and confirming you do have the skills and knowledge to succeed.
NN: What does ONS offer nursing students and new nurses?
Kimberley: First of all, nursing students get free memberships! For new nurses, ONS provides a variety of services, such as information on cancer, academic scholarships, mentoring opportunities, and a haven of other like-minded nurses who share the same passion as you. I love networking with nurses from around the world who have experienced some of the same struggles and/or successes. It is a huge professional and personal support system right at my fingertips.
NN: Is there any piece of advice you would like to share with nursing students?
Kimberley: Nursing school is hard, but if you truly have a calling for it, stay determined and keep at it. Classes and clinicals are necessary, but you get out of them what you put in, so don’t shy away from any opportunity that is given to you. Say yes and be the first to volunteer, because once you are out of school, it is no longer practice – it’s the real deal.
NN: Is there anything you would like to add?
Kimberley: Nursing is an amazing profession and there are different specialties that fit many types of skills and talents. Come join us in providing high-quality, safe, and compassionate care for everyone.