Oncology Nursing: Interview with Pamela Kenz, RN, BSN, CNOR

My Specialty

Oncology Nursing: Interview with Pamela Kenz, RN, BSN, CNOR

By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN
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Where are you employed and what is your position?
I am the clinical nurse manager of surgical services at City of Hope, which is an innovative campus-based hospital that treats and manages all aspects of cancer care, including research.

What are your responsibilities as a clinical nurse manager?
I supervise a staff of 125, and my responsibilities include clinical oversight of Pre-Op, PACU, PATC, OR and sterile processing, and all aspects of the clinical operations of surgical services.

How long have you been a nurse?
I’ve been a nurse since 1976. I worked as a floor nurse initially, and then went to Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where I enrolled in a 9-month OR training program that included high-volume trauma, heart surgery and neurosurgical cases. It basically changed my nursing career. I knew instantly that was where I belonged. I had worked at City of Hope as a volunteer when I was in high school, so it was an easy decision to move when I was recruited 10 years ago.

What’s special about where you work?
We perform many very complex surgical procedures that aren’t routinely done in the community hospital, because our surgeons are solely focused on cancer. Many of our cases involve two or three surgeons and last from 10-16 hours. We also have four DaVinci robots that are in use every day. We received our first robot six or seven years ago, and have become one of the busiest hospitals in the country in terms of robotic surgery.

What specifically brought you to oncology?
It’s the mission and vision of the hospital that brought me here. It’s a very unique environment and philosophy. We treat the whole patient, and it’s all about healing. I felt like it was a place where I could really make a difference. Many of our patients don’t just come here once. They come for surgery, and then they return for chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. They get to know the staff members well. We deal with death and dying every day, but patients also live much longer now than they used to.

How is the death and dying aspect of oncology nursing for you?
I’m older and I’ve worked here a while, so it’s a lot easier for me. We have so many wonderful healthcare partners here who deal solely with death and dying, not just for the patient, but for the family and the staff members as well. It really makes a difference.

How do you feel about technology’s impact on nursing?

Technology has revolutionized nursing! From order entry to intra-operative charting, every piece of equipment has a computer and everything we do involves them these days. The challenge is training, and then keeping the workforce up to speed in an ever-changing environment. We’re moving forward every day with new innovations that I feel that we’ve embraced.

What are the characteristics you look for in an oncology nurse?
I hire a lot of people. The nurses who come here do so because of the mission of the hospital. They want to help, and they want to be involved in the changes that are coming to healthcare. They want to make a difference, and they genuinely care. They are a group of the finest individuals I have ever worked with, at all levels. Forty percent of our nurses have been here for 20-30 years, and that’s a long time.

Do you have further professional goals for your nursing career?
City of Hope has recently adopted Maria O’Rourke’s Role-based Practice Model, and my goal is to help our institution push the training out to all nurses by serving as a mentor and role model. Evidence-based practice is also an integral part of nursing practice here.

What are your recommendations for a nurse interested in oncology?

Find someone that you can shadow so that you can experience the role in order to see what it entails. It’s an exciting, innovative and different kind of nursing that is very technologically-based, yet patient-focused. Just explore the realities of surgical oncology nursing and see if it’s for you.


The word cancer is Latin for “crab.”  Its use for the disease goes back to Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC - ca. 370 BC), who described the appearance of the cut surface of a solid malignant tumor as looking like a crab. He wrote: "the veins stretched on all sides as the animal the crab has its feet, whence it derives its name.”


Did You Know?


History of Cancer Treatment

Prior to the 1970s, surgical intervention was the focus of treatment for those individuals living with cancer, and nurses subsequently focused on pre- and post-operative care. In 1971, the National Cancer Act brought federal funds and wherewithal to the fight against cancer’s high rates of morbidity and mortality. The resulting research and development of non-surgical treatment methods necessitated that nurses learn skills related to the administration of chemotherapy and radiation. Symptom management also became an important aspect of oncology nursing as patients began to live longer as a result of these new regimens.

The Specialty Expands

Over the last four decades, the specialty of nursing oncology has matured to include nurses who work as direct caregivers, researchers, consultants, administrators and educators. Oncology nurses coordinate care, collaborate with other specialties, conduct research, and utilize advanced skills in symptom management, and the administration of chemotherapy and radiation.

Areas of specialty within oncology nursing include chemotherapy, radiation, breast oncology, OB/GYN oncology, bone marrow transplant, prevention, pediatrics, palliative care and other areas. Oncology nurses work in hospice, inpatient care, outpatient treatment centers, and a plethora of other clinical and non-clinical environments.

Training and Certification

Many nurses who work in oncology are generalists who receive on-the-job training in order to become conversant with the many aspects of cancer treatment and symptom management. Some nurses choose to pursue a certification in oncology nursing (www.oncc.org), as well as specialty certifications such as pediatric oncology.

Oncology Nursing and the Future

Nursing research has underscored the need for a keen focus on evidence-based practices, and this holds especially true for oncology nursing, where new treatments and methods of symptom management are in a constant state of development and refinement. As oncology matures and changes, new chemotherapeutic agents, radiation techniques and medications for the control of side effects will ensure that nurses must remain up-to-date on the latest treatments.

What Next?

If you are curious about oncology nursing but are not sure if it’s for you, contact your local cancer treatment center and request an informational interview with the director of nursing. If your interest is piqued, request to shadow an experienced oncology nurse for several shifts in order to get a better feeling for the actual experience of working in oncology.

If you would like more information about oncology nursing, here are some helpful websites to visit:

Oncology Nursing Society: www.ons.org
Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses:  www.aphon.org
Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association: www.HPNA.org
Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation:  www.oncc.org
Oncology Nursing Society Foundation: www.onsfoundation.org
Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing: www.ons.org
Oncology Nursing News:  www.oncologynursingnews.com
Onconurse.com: www.onconurse.com

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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