I wish u knew… the role of the nurse practitioner in oncology

Tim Hampshire

Part of what this segment is supposed to do is provide an index of cancer experts and their respective roles. Genny Hollis was a good subject for us, because there probably isn’t anybody around who is better equipped to answer the question:

What exactly is a nurse practitioner?

It’s confusing, right? Are they nurses? Are they doctors? Administrators? Are they something in between? Why is this NP diagnosing me? Is this protocol?

Well, a nurse practitioner is something like your neighborhood car mechanic. They’re really familiar with the inner workings of your car, and they know how to fix just about anything. They went through some basic mechanic training, and have since expanded their area of focus—perhaps to motorcycles or boats. They know how to recognize problems, and even if they can’t fix things by themselves, they always “know a guy.” Or they get their team on it. Genny put it well when she said, “We rally resources.”

The generalized, but also specific, training that a nurse practitioner receives is an invaluable way to lubricate our medical process, which can feel frustrating and bureaucratic.

Anybody in the medical profession will tell you that the “patient experience” could always use a little more work. Mechanics like Genny are working on it. “It’s pretty complicated to be a person with cancer,” she told me. It shouldn’t be, but it is. That’s simply a side effect of how advanced the treatment options have become. To send one person through the great medical machine all alone would be ineffective and probably a little cruel. Hospitals are big: where do I go? Whom do I see today? What drugs do I take on Tuesday? Questions like that can get lost if people are afraid to ask because they don’t want to interrupt the whirring of the machine. They can forget that they’re important.

So why can’t doctors handle that? Why can’t they remind patients to give them feedback? Why can’t they manage the nurses properly and make sure the resources go to the right places, and every patient gets the right drugs, and everything goes smoothly?

Good questions one and all.

The fact of the matter is that nowadays, it takes somebody with a lot of management know-how to make that all happen. And they have to care enough to want to make it happen. When it’s an issue of not only doing, but also caring, who’s the best choice? When it’s not just practicality, but tenderness, that we require, whom do we ask?


And that’s why the formula works.

It’s not that nobody else cares, but people often don’t have the time. And patients deserve the time. Again, Genny put it best when she gave us her golden tagline: “Everybody deserves a really good nurse.”

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