Day in the Life: The CyberKnife Nurse

Vicki Hartnett is St. Louis CyberKnife’s nurse navigator. She provides clinical support and care coordination for our center’s patients.

Read more about her role as a CyberKnife® nurse:

What are your major morning tasks?
The most important task each morning is to review the day’s schedule and make certain all is in place for the upcoming treatments. I also check for reports on imaging and procedures our patients have undergone the previous day, and then communicate with the physician regarding those results and how it may affect the patient and/or their treatment. Finally, I check in with the physics department to talk about the progress of treatments currently in planning. If the plan is close to completion, I interact with the therapists and physicians to set up a treatment schedule for the patient and then either the therapist or I contact the patient regarding those appointments.

What are your daily tasks to assist patients?
One of my most important tasks is to make sure all is in motion to assure that the patient is treated efficiently and in a timely manner. I view my role at St. Louis CyberKnife as basically a nurse navigator because getting a patient to the treatment table takes a lot of planning, educating and coordinating. One of the nicest things about this department is that we are able to take the time we need to make sure each patient feels valued, important, secure and confident in their care. I try to make sure all patients know my name, have my telephone number and email address, and know that they can call any time to ask questions, discuss concerns or fears, ask for assistance in dealing with problems, etc. Further, if a patient’s family is present, I try to check in with the them while they are waiting, to make sure there are no questions, to explain the next step in the process after that procedure, and basically to take a minute to get to know them a little better so they also can associate a face with the nurse in the CyberKnife department.

What are your daily tasks to assist with the physician team?
Because we have CyberKnife physicians located throughout the SSM system, they depend on me to take care of all the details associated with undergoing CyberKnife treatment, and it’s very important that they know I will make sure everything is done correctly. I also communicate with the physicians regarding each individual patient and their particular problems, treatment plan, needs and expectations. I then can provide the TLC, so they focus on planning and creating the very best treatment for each patient. Every Friday, the entire CyberKnife team meets for chart rounds, where every patient is discussed, issues are identified, problems are brainstormed and solutions are found.

What do you do before leaving the center at the end of the day?
I review the schedule for the following day and prepare a task list of what needs to be done, especially those things that need immediate attention. The best thing about the end of the day is being able to look back over the day and feel very grateful that I am part of this department. I became a nurse because I wanted to take care of people at a time when they really need to be cared for. It’s really where my heart is and although I have worked in other areas of healthcare such as administration, I am so grateful to have returned to what I feel I do best.

How do you stay abreast of industry news and trends?
I attend a bi-weekly Thoracic Conference and bi-weekly Tumor Board in which CyberKnife cases are often discussed in great detail with various entities including physicians, radiologists, pathologists, and other nurses. It provides a great learning opportunity, especially with understanding the pathology and imaging associated with our patients.

What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
There are two aspects I really enjoy about this job. The first is that I work with a great and cohesive team. I am only one small cog in the wheel of CyberKnife, and there are several other team members who are just as important and just as dedicated. The other team members include the physicians, the dosimetrists, the physicists, the therapists, the operations coordinator, the site coordinator and the billing personnel each of whom have a role in every CyberKnife treatment given. I depend on them in order to effectively do my small part of the process.

The second aspect, which I touched on in the previous question, is that I love having the opportunity to return to patient care. I love being able to make CyberKnife a positive experience for them. I love having the opportunity to provide education, information and support to the patients and their families. The diagnosis of cancer is devastating in itself, but the frustration of navigating through the healthcare system and the fear of the unknown, often compounds the situation. I know those feelings from some personal experiences, and I also know how relieved and grateful I was when someone took the time to show interest, to answer my questions, to listen to my fears and concerns, to show that they were aware of how I was feeling and that they cared enough to try to help. That’s what I want to do for my patients and their families.