Christie Santure, BSN, RN, started her career as a candy striper — red-andwhite-striped jumper, white tights and all. “I have always known, from the beginning, that I wanted to be a nurse,” she says. “I started out in high school, volunteering at the local hospital. Since the age of 15, that’s all I have ever wanted to do.”
This year, Santure celebrates 40 years as a nurse. After earning her Bachelor of Science in nursing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, she spent 5 years involved with medical and surgical nursing and then 25 years on the American Red Cross blood collection staff. It wasn’t until she had a personal brush with oncology that she decided to make the move to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hillman Cancer Center, where she currently works.
“I had a family member get cancer,” she says. “At the time, not knowing much about oncology made me want to learn more to be able to support my family. Everyone appreciated so much what the oncology nurses did to help them through that difficult time, and I just wanted to be able to help families who were going through a similar situation, the way those nurses helped us.”
Santure was relocating to Pittsburgh because of her husband’s job, so she used the impending move to switch to oncology nursing and never looked back. Three years in, she became oncology certified; today, she spends her days administering chemotherapy. Although the position can be “emotionally and physically exhausting,” she says, it also gives her strength.
“I’ve become such a better person because I appreciate things so much more now than I did before I went into oncology,” she says. “I appreciate the preciousness of life and the importance of being there to support your family.” That includes all her patients, whom she says “become like family.”
Her goal is to walk in the shoes of the nurses who inspired her along the way. “Watching those nurses, I was so in awe of what they were doing, both the nursing practice and the clinical expertise, as well as the fact that they were just so compassionate,” she says.
Three years ago, Santure carried that compassion forward by launching a Caring for the Caregiver program at her institution, which previously did not offer a support group for that population.
“It all began with an interaction with a caregiver of a patient who said she needed support but didn’t want to burden her family, and she felt guilty telling her family she was feeling very stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed,” Santure recalls. “Caregiver research has shown they are ‘silent patients,’ as they many times forgo their own doctors’ appointments and health care because they are so consumed with caring for their loved one, and, in turn, their own health suffers. Being together in a group gives them a safe environment to talk about their feelings and not feel guilty for having those feelings.”
Outside of work, Santure has been involved in the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society for the past 10 years; this is her third year serving on its board and her second as treasurer. She takes the lead in planning the chapter’s annual nursing conference and other community service projects.
Although she is living her lifelong dream through nursing, Santure is quick to point out that her career isn’t her only wish come true: She has been married almost as long as she has been working. “I’m married to my college sweetheart,” she says, “married 38 years, and we have 3 wonderful children.”
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