Oncology Nurse Champion: Amelia Mercer

“When you’re donning that gown to go into a room, you’re donning exactly what that patient needs you to be.”

Amelia Mercer, BSN, RN, CBCN, OCN, knew she wanted to work in oncology when she cared for a patient with cancer in her first role as a nurse.

Impressed with the level of knowledge, skill, and patience that it required to help this patient and his family, Mercer recognized that this profession was what she wanted for her career. Nearly a decade later, with experience working both inpatient and outpatient settings; across hematology, solid tumor, and palliative; and as the current nurse navigator for the breast team at Rush University Cancer Center in Chicago, Illinois, Mercer embodies the meaning of “oncology nurse champion.”

“Amelia is an amazing nurse and a true champion for patients,” said Ruta D. Rao, MD, medical director of Rush University Cancer Center. “My patients comment daily on the incredible support she gives them, for whatever their needs and questions are.”

Time Management and Teamwork

Time management is one of the greatest challenges that Mercer faces in her role as a nurse navigator, she said. Her job is done entirely by phone, which means there is always a queue of patients requiring her assistance. Without seeing these patients face to face, Mercer prioritizes tasks by asking herself, “What do you need to do first? [Is one task] more urgent than another? Can this wait for an hour or two or even be pushed off till tomorrow? Does it need to be acted on right now?”

Moreover, part of her motto is that she never hesitates to reach out to her team as needed.

“I want to be able to give the patient the best knowledge….I always have people that I can turn to because I’m not going to ever know everything. That interdisciplinary team is truly what allows me to provide the best possible care for the patient,” said Mercer.

“She is a true team player,” Rao noted about Mercer. “She delivers outstanding care to the patient by working with the patient, [the] family, and the interdisciplinary team, including other medical professionals, as well as social workers, psychologists, and therapists.”

Adapting to New Roles

Mercer understands that cancer care is extremely complex and that a cancer diagnosis, even if a patient goes into active remission or shows no evidence of disease, represents a burden that will stay with patients their entire life. She is, therefore, always working to find better ways to help provide that much-needed comprehensive care.

Currently, she is enrolled in the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Rush University, with an anticipated graduation date of fall 2022. Although she had always wanted to return to school, Mercer credits a coworker who is a nurse practitioner and oncology nurse at Rush with inspiring her and being a role model for how the knowledge acquired through a nurse practitioner degree can be applied in the oncology setting.

“It is always neat to just apply the knowledge directly as I learn and relearn things with refined understanding. I feel better equipped to educate my patients with what I know and feel as I am learning alongside them throughout their clinical course,” said Mercer.

Be What Patients Need

Mercer adjusts her supportive approach in response to the patient’s specific needs.

“When I used to work on the inpatient side, I worked at a hospital [where] we donned protective equipment every time we went into a patient’s room…We just treated everyone as if they were infectious to protect everybody. And I remember kind of making the analogy [that] when you’re donning that gown to go into a room, you’re donning exactly what that patient needs you to be. Some people need you to be sarcastic and funny. Some people need you to sit and cry with them for a minute. Some people need you to be very quiet and respectful.

“So at the end of that patient encounter, you’re literally taking off that gown—you’re taking off what they have needed you to be, you wash your hands, you go to the next room, and you don the next persona and kind of emotional state that that next patient and those family members need you to be. So it’s very personal.”

Even in her current role as a nurse navigator—which is 100% phone work—Mercer still manages to adapt her supportive approach around what patients need.

“I’m having to gather a lot of that information over the phone, and I’m kind of gently easing my way into those conversations to figure out what is it that they need from me....[I]s it that humor? Or is it the sarcasm, you know, which I can turn on and am pretty good at. Of course, sometimes they just need it to be serious and more educational, or whatever the case is. So I think that the ability to kind of take all of those different [needs] on is a big piece of oncology care.”

The Importance of Self-Care

Mercer advised oncology nurses to remember to also take care of themselves.

“Vacations, long breaks, [and] time you can give yourself [to] recharge your own battery [are] only going to make you stronger and better...and able to give more,” Mercer said. “And I know for us in the oncology field, it’s really hard to push that stop button because there’s always a need out there.

“But for us to be able to continue to keep going for these patients, it is vitally important that we actually stop and give ourselves a chance to breathe and to focus on our own health and energy and restoration so that we can come back for more.”

Supported by G1 Therapeutics