Oncology Nurse Champion: Kristin Rupp

Kristin Rupp, RN, OCN, BSN, reminiscences about the experiences that made her the nurse she is today, and how she continues to pay it forward.

After 30 years of experience being an oncology nurse, Kristin Rupp, RN, OCN, BSN, “wouldn’t trade this profession for the world.”

“I know I’ve made the right choice,” she said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News®. Rupp, a seasoned oncology nurse “with a wealth of experience and a heart of gold,” according to her coworkers, has spent the past 15 years at the Desert Regional Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center in Palm Springs, California, where she works full time in the oncology infusion suite and assists in the satellite clinics weekly. Although she is known to have fantastic managerial skills, her coworkers especially appreciate her heart for the patients and her knack for putting them at ease.

“She has been recognized locally by her peers and our hospital administration as a nurse of distinction,” said Timothy Tyler, PharmD, director of pharmacy, lab, and oncology supportive care at the Desert Regional Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, “but most of all, she is loved by her patients and fellow clinicians as someone who goes beyond what is expected and is truly exemplary.”

Preparing the Next Generation

Rupp said she was positively influenced by a variety of encouraging and inspiring mentors when she was still a novice oncology nurse. Today, she helps share her own experience with the next generation of nurses by having assisted at a nursing school in her community and by frequently volunteering to precept nursing students.

She said one of the most inspiring parts of preparing the next generation of nurses is witnessing their interactions with patients. “[They] see how amazing our patients are, how brave they are, what they are going through...[and say], ‘Hey, you know what? This isn’t so scary. And you know what? I’m going to think about oncology nursing.’ To me, that’s priceless,” Rupp said.

When students interact with patients with cancer, it can have a huge impact on them as they realize these individuals will have to live with their disease for the rest of their lives, and in some cases, may have to navigate end-of-life issues, Rupp said. However, she enjoys seeing how many of her students find themselves ready to tackle the world of oncology supportive care once they garner experience.

“I love the students,” she said. “I love their enthusiasm. I love [how] they’re scared and frightened [when they come in, but] when they go back to their class, they say, ‘Gosh, that was great.’”

A Personal Connection

Rupp recognizes that cancer care not only involves treating the disease itself, but also involves offering supportive care, managing adverse events, and often supporting the needs of the patient and the family caregivers. By imagining the situation from the patient’s perspective, she is able to try to understand what they might be experiencing.

“In a nutshell, I look at these challenges, and [I think] how would I want to be treated? Or how would I want my family members to be treated? We want to look at the situation as a whole and address the needs individually,” Rupp said.

She said one of the benefits of working at a comprehensive cancer center is the interdisciplinary team available to her. “We’re fortunate to have the services of our wonderful social workers, psychologists, [and] dieticians all coming together to address the needs of the patient.”

Rupp’s professional and personal experiences have even intertwined at times. Her career was significantly impacted through losing both her brother and mother to lung cancer. “As an oncology nurse, it hit home in my heart,” Rupp said. She explained that although she knows she tried to be the best nurse, sister, and daughter she could be, the loss continues to weigh on her. At the end of the day, she recognizes that this experience has strengthened her ability to connect with the patients and caregivers she supports.

“I can feel and know the hurt that folks are going through. I had been an oncology nurse for a long time, but when it gets into your inner circle…it’s a whole different story. I am sad I lost them, but [to see] how brave they were to have gone through what they went through—I see things in a whole different light because of it.”

Patient Support in a Pandemic

Rupp said one of the biggest challenges she faced in the past year was helping patients overcome the feeling of isolation. “Think of how difficult it must be to go to your first chemotherapy appointment and not have your loved one with you. How scary,” she said. “Think about the nurse talking about all of this medication, [adverse] effects, things that can happen, and instructions of what to do at home. There’s only so much you can absorb if you don’t have that extra set of ears or extra set of eyes. Can you imagine that?”

Oncology nurses were forced to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rupp said. To do that, nurses needed to demonstrate a lot of patience. Overall, patience was key to surviving the pandemic, she concluded, adding that nurses had to use a lot of patience to provide the level of emotional support required by their patients.

Rupp herself adapted to the needs that COVID-19 had posed. “She jumped in and helped in our outpatient clinic, infusing monoclonal antibodies to those scared and frightened individuals who needed some reassurance that this was good therapy and could make a difference in preventing them from worsening. When the outpatient pharmacy at the hospital was able to procure COVID-19 vaccines early on for the community, she volunteered her time on numerous weekends, vaccinating the community with no remuneration other than a thank you,” Tyler said.

Excellence in Times of Stress

Upon reflecting over the past almost 2 years, Rupp describes excellence in oncology nursing as “when you can sit with someone, hold their hand, laugh, and cry. Talk about life and death, having the most intimate conversations without a thought of the pandemic.” Her advice to new oncology nurses is to know they’ve chosen the best profession in the world, and to go out and be the best oncology nurses they can be.

Supported by G1 Therapeutics