Nurse. Nursing Director. Assistant Vice President. These are all titles that Karen Gleason, RN, BSN, OCN has held since starting her career at Northwell Health. Today, Karen is the vice president of the Cancer Service Line. Each step in her career has helped her develop a broader perspective of nursing and healthcare administration and has also inspired Karen to receive her oncology certification from the National Oncology Society, as well as a certification in patient experience.
Karen’s drive for continuing her education and development is one that is reflected in how she leads and encourages the oncology team to further their own professional development. In fact, the Monter Cancer Center received the 2019 Employer Recognition Award from the Oncology Nursing Society thanks to Monter’s initiatives that support professional development and provide educational opportunities for its oncology nurses.
We sat down to talk to Karen about growth in oncology care and career options at Northwell’s Cancer Institute.
How has oncology care grown and how is it continuing to grow at Northwell Health?
Over the past several years there has been a significant shift in oncology care driven by more targeted diagnostic techniques and development of new immunotherapies and supportive care drugs. Northwell Health has always had a very strong commitment to the care of oncology patients and has continued to support the growth of the program by building state-of-the-art treatment centers in our communities. In 2016, the Imbert Cancer Center opened in Bayshore, Long Island and brought multidisciplinary physician practice, radiation medicine, medical oncology and imaging under one roof. In 2017, the Cancer Center at Phelps Hospital opened bringing state-of-the-art services to the community. In 2018, Dr. Richard Barakat joined as the physician-in-chief and director of the Cancer Institute, as well as senior vice president of Northwell’s Cancer Service Line.
What innovative procedures or technologies are being used by our oncology team?
The health system continues to be at the forefront of new diagnostic techniques, treatments and services. There is continuous use of new state-of-the-art oral and infusion drug therapies and we continue to develop our clinical research programs to bring available, cutting-edge clinical trials to our patients. We have established a transformative relationship with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to speed the development of new cancer therapies.
We have new and exciting programs for 2019 that include a pancreatic cancer program where Northwell is collaborating to develop pancreatic cancer organoid models from patient tumors. Organoids allow scientists to examine a patient’s tumor outside the body and identify drugs that are effective in the treatment of cancer.
Can you talk about the new Center for Pregnancy and Cancer?
The Center for Pregnancy and Cancer is a specialty program that focuses on the treatment of cancer during pregnancy. Approximately 1 in 1,000 pregnant women are diagnosed with cancer while pregnant in the U.S. each year. That’s why we’ve created a program that includes highly specialized experts in the fields of maternal fetal medicine, gynecologic oncology, hematology/medical oncology, neonatology, and reproductive endocrinology. Each specialist brings their own perspective and experience to help create a truly individualized treatment plan for both mother and baby. A dedicated nurse navigator seamlessly guides patients through their treatment plan.
What types of jobs are available in oncology?
The care and treatment of cancer patients take the efforts of a dedicated, diverse and focused team comprised of various roles
Career opportunities within the Cancer Service Line include:
- Nurse navigator — their clinical expertise and training guides patients and their caregivers, and ensures they are scheduled timely and appropriately with the best clinical care team for their disease
- Practice nurses – partner with the patient throughout their treatment and serve as an ongoing source of support and education and are available to answer any ongoing questions.
- Infusion nurses – administer, monitor, and educate our patients in complex chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.
- Research nurses — coordinate, evaluate and follow a patient’s participation in clinical trials.
- Advanced care practitioners — who create individualized plans of care and guide cancer patients throughout the cancer journey from diagnosis to treatment and into survivorship.
- Administrative professionals — drive the operations and program development in the Cancer Service Line.
- Financial staff — assist patients through the complex insurance and reimbursement processes.
The team also includes social workers, nutritionists and genetic counselors, as well as highly specialized and skilled oncology pharmacists and laboratory professionals.
What is your best piece of career advice?
Embrace every challenge as an opportunity.
We ensure that the oncology patient and their family receive a dedicated team that provides intense care, guidance, patience, empathy and clear explanations and management of expectations throughout their journey. A career in oncology can be demanding but it is incredibly rewarding work. You can really make a difference in the life of patients who are undergoing one of the most challenging circumstances a person can face in their lifetime. Our team has an overwhelming sense of pride in everything we do. At Northwell we incorporate the voices of our team members into our decisions which helps cement our culture and make Northwell an engaging and rewarding place to work.