Regional Cancer Center ~ Erie, PA

RCC Funds Nurses Advanced Training

Dec 10, 2015 | Posted in News


Life got in the way of Sharon Burgert's plans.

After earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing and becoming a registered nurse, she wanted to continue her education and become a nurse practitioner.

She was ready, had even ordered the registration catalogs, when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2009. Burgert found out she was pregnant a month later.

It wasn't until 2012 that she had a second opportunity: The Regional Cancer Center, where Burgert works as a collaborative practice nurse to a physician, offered to pay for nurses to continue their education in exchange for a five-year job commitment.

Burgert, 44, leapt at the chance, though it meant juggling a 6-year-old and her work schedule with evening classes at Gannon University. She started her college classes a week after her daughter started preschool.

"I always wanted to be a nurse. My mom was a nurse. I dressed up as a nurse for Halloween," said Burgert, who is now in the third year of the three-and-a-half-year program.

As a nurse practitioner, she'll have more autonomy and more opportunities than she does now to care for patients directly -- something she finds immensely rewarding.

When Burgert was a child, she helped take care of her grandmother, who had bladder cancer. She helped make her comfortable and listened to the stories she told.

"That made me want to do it," Burgert said. "You get a certain satisfaction from helping people."

The Regional Cancer Center made the offer because its mid-level providers -- physician assistants and nurse practitioners -- were leaving, said Sarah Kaveney, director of clinical operations.

"Cancer care is so specific and so emotionally draining, we were experience a high turnover," Kaveney said. "That's not what anybody wants, especially since cancer is becoming a chronic illness. We want them to establish relationships on a long-term basis."

As part of a growing trend in medicine, more doctor's offices are turning to those mid-level providers to meet patient needs. The problem for people like Burgert is the cost of going back to school can be a barrier.

The center's board of directors approved a plan to fund three nurses, at a cost of more than $100,000 over three years. Ten nurses applied; after a rigorous application and interview process, Burgert and two others were chosen.

It's an investment in the nurses, but also in the patients, Kaveney said.

"It validates how we want to bring that high quality care to them and meet their needs," she said.

Bugert is thankful for the opportunity and the generosity.

She's busy writing a thesis on "The Lived Experience of Psychological Distress in Non-small cell Lung Cancer Patients" and taking a class on pediatrics and organ system diseases.

In between, she's fielding calls from patients at the Cancer Center, looking at PET scans and making patient referrals. And that's just at her day job.

"It's a huge commitment," Burgert said, "but you end up in a good place when you're done."

Source: Erica Erwin, Erie Times-News
Photo: Christopher Millette, Erie Times-News

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