In recognition of National Nurses Week, we want to celebrate the nurses at COTA who are working to improve cancer care. Building on their backgrounds working with cancer patients in various clinical settings, we are inspired by their drive to impact care at scale by enhancing the useability of patient data across the healthcare industry.

Below, we’ve asked COTA’s nurses a few questions about their motivation for becoming a nurse, how their current roles in healthcare technology differs from their experience working in the hospital, and their message to nurses currently on the frontlines of the pandemic. Thank you to all of our nurses for everything that you do!

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

Karen: I knew I always wanted to be in the medical field. I thought about becoming a pediatrician but didn’t want to be in school that long. So nursing was the next best option for me and I’m so happy I did it!

Jacqueline: I decided to become a nurse because I wanted to help people – so cliche. I went back to school at 30 after working as an executive assistant at an upscale retail company in NYC. It was the best decision I ever made. I only wish I could convince more people to become nurses!

Maegan: I always was fascinated by the science of the human body and I knew I wanted a job that allowed me to help people, nursing was the perfect fit!

Courtney: When I was a teenager, I was involved in a car accident and spent over two weeks in the hospital and it was the nurses that really made the difference. I appreciated the care they provided, the way they took the time to sit and talk with me, and all the little things that they did for me that went beyond their job description. I knew from that point forward that I wanted to make that kind of difference for people through a career in nursing.

Josie: From the exposure to the health field growing up and having family members and friends with multiple health issues; I decided I wanted people to have a nurse that would always care for them as though they were a family member. I am now that person!

Heidi: I always knew I wanted to help people. I worked in a long-term care facility as a nurses’ aide and in the hospital in the Social Work department while I received my first degree in psychology. When deciding where I would focus my graduate studies, I realized that being a nurse meant you cared for the emotional and physical needs of the patients. I was interested in the science, as well as the emotional well being of the patients – this is what ultimately brought me to decision regarding my career.

Compare your experience working as a nurse in a clinical setting vs. working at a healthcare technology company. What do you like? What do you miss?

Karen: I love interacting with and taking care of my patients. They are all in different stages of their diagnoses so they really look to us for support, education, and just a diversion from what is going on. Learning about all the new therapies is so interesting as well. Working at a healthcare tech company has been such a positive for me. Through abstraction and QA I have learned about the pathology, staging, molecular markers, etc. that I never had the chance to focus on in the clinical setting.

Jacqueline: As a nurse in healthcare technology, while I know what we do is important – there is a tremendous feeling of guilt and wishing I could do more during this ongoing pandemic. Everyday, my fellow nurses working on the front line are on my mind. In times of crisis, I wish I could put the computer away and put on my scrubs and jump right in.
I became a nurse to help people and for that reason, I still continue to be a nurse on a per diem basis.  Yes, what we do at COTA is amazing, valuable, and so important – it will someday soon change the face of healthcare.  However, I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without the patients and people I have met along the way. 

Maegan: Working in a hospital setting granted me the unique opportunity to connect with my patients and provide them support during difficult times. Working at a healthcare technology company, I am removed from the bedside but I’m able to make a positive impact on such a larger scale – that is without a doubt the best part. I loved helping the small group of people I met during each of my shifts, but this role now allows me to help so many more. 

Courtney: When I worked at a large academic medical center, I felt like I was part of something big and something that mattered. i It was a great feeling. Although at COTA the environment is very different, I feel the same way. I feel like I’m a part of something big and that the work we are doing is important and matters to so many people. Although the scope of the work is vastly different, the overall mission of improving patients’ lives is exactly the same. At COTA, I love knowing that we can provide insights from our data that have the potential to have an immense impact on oncology care.
Nursing is a wonderful career choice that allows you exposure to many different types of work in many different types of environments, and I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences I have been afforded in my career. I am continuously learning and growing and hope to continue doing so. I hope to continue making a difference. 

Josie: It is an interesting difference, but each pose their own nuances, stressors and ability to help the general public. I love being able to know I am helping to change and better the treatment administered for so many that need more options and education. However, I do miss making a connection with a patient and/or their family.

Heidi: I came to COTA in August of 2019 after 18 years of working as an oncology nurse practicing in a clinical setting. Although I do miss some aspects of patient care, I feel as a nurse with my experience working for a healthcare technology company I have the potential to help a broader number of patients. I feel blessed to be a part of a team, all departments of COTA included, that all truly care about the quality of their work and consider the impact they can have on oncology care (and maybe not just limited to oncology care) in the future.

Do you think the work you are doing at COTA could be helpful in responding to this and future public health crises? 

Karen: Yes without a doubt! We are actively involved in the research for treatments right now so that is exciting.

Jacqueline: The work we do at COTA may be helpful for this crisis and certainly can be for future public health crises – especially in the cancer care setting.  We can use data to help make decisions on future treatments, care modalities, and lower costs.  We will make significant changes!

Maegan: The world of medicine is constantly evolving, trying to become better and more efficient. A key component in the success of medicine are the people it aims to heal. The faster data involving those people is gathered and analyzed, the more effective the world of medicine can be. COTA actively provides medicine the capability to be nimble and react to changes in public health in real time, its powerful. 

Courtney: Yes, I believe the work we are doing at COTA could definitely be helpful in responding to public health crises. Real world data holds incredible power and insight and can help clinicians with gaining the knowledge they need in a more timely manner. COTA has developed robust processes around collecting and analyzing real world data and is in a great position to use that expertise across different disease types. 

Josie: Absolutely, there is a need to quick access data and a better understanding in all of healthcare how these patients treatment courses truly play out. There is also a great need of real world data so that physicians and life science companies aren’t relying on what has happened in the past, but how patients currently responding especially with how rapidly changing the field of medicine is.

Heidi: I do think the work done by COTA has tremendous ability to help in responding to this and future public health crises.  I feel that while the Medical Professionals are practicing in real time caring for patients with a virus we know very little about, and changing their protocols with the knowledge they learn.  It is so important to collect and review the data to confirm the efficacy and improve outcomes for  future patients.

What is your message to front line nurses during these challenging times? For those of you still working in the hospital, what is your biggest take away from your experience working during the pandemic?

Karen: My message is what I’ve been talking to my colleagues about – we chose this career. We are lucky enough to have a job,  to help during this horrific time, and feel the amazing support of everyone.I would say my biggest take away is gratitude for my co workers because we have exemplified the true meaning of teamwork and the love for my patients who cannot have visitors with them during this time.

Jacqueline: I am in awe of my colleagues everyday. I’ve only been on the quasi front line in the infusion room a few times during this pandemic. My take away… it’s so sad that cancer patients and their families have this added anxiety and fear to their treatment journey. Dealing with their disease and diagnosis is hard enough, adding the fear of getting the virus and not being able to fight it is horrible.  My message to the front line nurses is to stay strong and applaud yourself – I certainly applaud you – you are truly angels of mercy!

Maegan: Thank you for continuing to provide care and compassion to our country during these times. Thank you for your continued resilience and strength. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made. Thank you, for everything that you do!

Courtney: Thank you! Thank you for caring for our loved ones and being with them when we can’t. Thank you for your sacrifice and your dedication to your patients and your community. Thank you for your bravery. You are all so incredibly caring and the stories coming out of this tragic time are so touching. I imagine that you all have so many of your own stories and that the impact each and every one of you is having reaches further than you’ll ever know. Please know that everything you are doing is making a difference and that we appreciate you more than we can express.

Josie: As a previous floor nurse it was always welcomed, but hard to respond to someone praising you or saying thank you because you signed up to take care of these people and wanted to be there. In some ways you feel guilt not standing by your past coworkers to help weather this storm. I would say, I respect your ability to do what you do. The world is so fortunate to have people with courage, strength and ability to walk in everyday knowing you’re risking your own and/or your family’s health. I’d also say it’s okay to be overwhelmed, because some days just aren’t going to be good days.

Heidi: Two quotes come to mind when I think of the nurses working on the front lines during these challenging times. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” -A.A.Milne and “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” – Vincent van Gogh.  I recognize the risks nurses take despite their fears, for themselves and their families, to care for patients. I am grateful that they have the courage to continue to show up. My prayer is that no matter how stressful or busy that they get, that they do not cut corners, but take the time to protect themselves at all times.


*Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity