For my STEP project I travelled to Santa Barbara, California where I shadowed the nurses and doctors in the hematology/oncology department of the Grotenhuis Pediatric Outpatient Clinic. I lived in Santa Barbara for six weeks on my own and worked 40 hours a week at the clinic. While working at the clinic I learned so much, and not just about the details of the medicines, treatments, and illnesses.
I went into the project believing that I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. From my experience at the clinic I have determined that I love working with children therefore pediatrics is definitely what I want to have a career in. I also was able to observe several different departments at the clinic including hematology/oncology, endocrinology, and nephrology, and found hematology/oncology the most interesting and satisfying to work in. However, I worked a lot with both the nurses and the doctors and have come to the conclusion that both are very rewarding in different ways and so I have begun to consider a career in nursing instead of being set on going to medical school after graduation.
The nurses had a lot more patient interaction than the doctor did, and I felt they were able to have a deeper connection with the patients and the families which is very important to me and something I did not expect. Also, part of the nurses’ jobs was to educate the parents and teach them about the illnesses and explain to them how to take care of the child while at home which I thought was a very interesting part of the job to observe and learn from because I never thought about that aspect before my internship. I sat down with one of the nurses and a doctor and they talked me through all the options after graduation which was very helpful and made me much more open minded about different career paths I could possibly go down.
Going into the internship I assumed that I would learn a lot about the different illnesses that pediatric oncologists treat, the treatment plans, and the medicines which I did. I was given lots of resources to educate myself and was allowed to sit in on all conversations that were had so I quickly absorbed lots of technical information. What was not expected was how much I learned about life and people. Working in the pediatric oncology department I interacted with parents going through probably one of the hardest things they will ever go through in life, their child being sick and having an unknown outcome. Everybody handles stress differently and I saw that first hand in an extremely stressful situation. The parents were put under a lot of pressure, they had to learn how and when to give their children different medicines and to make tough decisions throughout the process like whether or not to send their child to school or whether to go the route of a blood marrow transplant. I saw some parents become overly protective and keep their kid in a bubble, I saw some parents shut down emotionally and put up lots of walls, and I saw some parents become disinterested and not pay close attention to their child or their child’s care. Everyone reacts differently, and a person never knows how they will handle a situation until it happens to them.
The nurses and doctors were never afraid to tell me the downsides of the job for which I am so grateful for. They never wanted me to think of it as easy and wanted me to experience hardships as well as success. They never held back when telling me the what was happening or the prognosis of a child. While I was in California, a few kids were lost, none that I knew, but it was still extremely difficult to watch the nurses and doctor find out and the grief that crossed their face. Something that one of the nurses said to me really stuck with me, “The hardest part about this job is knowing you can do everything you can to save their body, but there is nothing you can do to save their soul.” Some kids fall apart when diagnosed with cancer and become very mentally ill which is not something the doctors or nurses can treat. To put in so much effort into saving a child’s life to watch them give up on the rest of their life was not easy to watch or hear about. It made me very grateful for the life that I have and the people who surrounded and the care I received to know that no one, including myself, let the leukemia define me and I was able to move past it. Watching the parents’ eyes light up with hope after they heard that I went through what their child is going through and made it out a better person because of it was the best part of my summer. Throughout it all, I realized that as hard as losing a patient was, probably one of toughest things that has ever happened to me, seeing the kids’ smile when they ring the bell for completing their last chemotherapy treatment and knowing that they can grow to be whatever they want to be made the job absolutely worth it. At the end of the day, you remember the ones that are lost, but you focus on the ones that are given a second chance, and that’s what made me happy to go into work every day and see the kids who are probably the strongest people I have ever met in my lifetime.
Unfortunately all of the pictures I took while working have one of the patients in them and I am prohibited from posting them on the internet because it would be a HIPAA violation.