Oncology Nurse Champion: Kathleen Lutz

From orchestrating local infusion appointments to making lunch for a patient, Kathleen Lutz, RN, NP-BC WH, constantly strives to provide an excellent level of supportive care.

Making lunch for a patient might not be the first task one envisions when thinking about oncology nursing. Luckily, that didn’t stop one nurse from helping a patient who was unable to prepare lunch for herself during chemotherapy.

That nurse is Kathleen Lutz, RN, NP-BC WH, and she addresses a variety of tasks every day to make the journey for her patients a little more comfortable. After 23 years at NYU Langone Health in New York, New York, as a nurse practitioner (NP), Lutz has seen cancer care develop dramatically during her career.

“I started practicing nursing in 1988 after graduating from Molloy College in Rockville Centre, New York. In 1997, I earned my post master’s nurse practitioner (degree) in women’s health from Stony Brook University. By 1998, I was the third NP credentialed to practice as a nurse practitioner at NYU Medical Center and the first NP in ob/gyn at the center, so I basically paved the way for the future of APN within the department of ob/gyn,” she said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News®.

More Than a Career

Lutz knows that oncology nursing is her calling. Despite some hesitancy moving to her current practice, on her first day working in outpatient gynecologic oncology she fell in love with the facet of nursing. She loved the level of care, the level of involvement with the patients, and the amount of relationship building that comes from helping a patient across the entire spectrum of cancer.

Oncology nurses help their patients through an avalanche of challenges. It is difficult for Lutzwhen she sees patients without a support system at home. “One of the big challenges is when we have a patient with no social support,” she said. “It means getting creative and finding the resources to get them back and forth to appointments and getting them medications.” She explained that patients without support systems need daily phone calls and more frequent home care visits to ensure that somebody is checkingin on a regular basis.

Lutz believes in an interdisciplinary team. She consistently reaches out in the community to see what resources can be provided for patients. This includes getting social services and nutritionists involved, as well as informing the regular staff nurses to ensure they know which patients need this extra level of support.

“I bring [the patients without support] in a little bit more often since they don’t have anybody, and I help coordinate their rides and such,” Lutz said, adding that she also arranges services such as Meals on Wheels for these patients and allows them to call her on the weekends.

Her enthusiasm for the patient’s well-being is clear to all who know her. Bhavana Pothuri, MD, who works at NYU Langone with Lutz, said, “Kathleen is extraordinary in her commitment to the care of the gynecologic oncology patient and is most deserving of this [recognition]. I have worked with her for 15 years and can say she is undoubtedly the most dedicated nurse I have ever worked with.”

A Tradition of Excellence

This is not the first time Lutz has been spotlighted for being an excellent oncology nurse. At the end of 2014, Lutz received the Advanced Practice Nursing Excellence Award from NYU. Her colleague, Erin Reese, RN, NP-BC WH, nominated her, citing an example of a patient for whom Lutz made lunch every time she came in for chemotherapy. This award served as a pivotal moment for Lutz, causing her to consider the positive impact of her actions. She explained, “Getting that award helped me realize that I am making a difference. I am making things better for patients and I am doing the right thing….I am on the right path.”

Her role as an advanced practice nurse also lends itself to an emphasis on excellent supportive care. Lutz cares for complex gynecologic patients during diagnoses, surgery, and chemotherapy treatments. Along the way, she supports them by providing an environment where they can go through the journey successfully. She also deals with end-of-life issues when appropriate, working closely with the supportive oncology team to help transition patients who go from active treatment for cancer to best supportive care. This entails working closely with the patients and their families.

Lutz said she is always inspired by the evolution of new drugs and successful treatments. A special moment in her career was recognizing that today she can say that patients are living longer, better, quality lives with cancer. She enjoys knowing she can make a difference in women’s lives and looks forward to what the future brings in cancer care, including the different trials and drugs that will arrive.

Handling the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lutz helped orchestrate infusion appointments locally when going to New York City was not feasible for patients. This involved spending many hours on the phone with patients to arrange for them to receive their chemotherapy in 1 of the 2 satellite centers on Long Island. Step 1 involved a telehealth visit where her team would make all the necessary assessments. On the day of the treatment, she would check in with the laboratories, look at the numbers, and ensure all the orders were set and signed so the patient would have a seamless appointment experience.

For approximately 9 months, the team worked tirelessly to help patients navigate the system so they could receive their treatment without traveling to 1 of the major epicenters of the pandemic. Lutz reminisced that “it was a challenge, and an exciting one, and I hope never to go through it again.”

When Lutz thinks about excellence in oncology care, she finds herself repeating the importance of having “big shoulders.”

“You need a lot of wiggle room,” she said. “It is important to recognize that patients are facing the most stressful event of their lives. One needs to allow [patients] multiple chances. Sometimes a patient might get angry, and that’s okay. You can’t get mad at your patients.”

Her message to other oncology nurses is to take a step back, put yourself in the patient’s position, allow them room to express themselves, and support them along the way.

Lutz understands that oncology nurses have to be 100% vested in what they do to be successful. She knows it is that level of commitment that makes her team what she calls “a successful family” and is happy to say she loves being an oncology advanced practice nurse.

Supported by G1 Therapeutics