A Love Letter to Oncology Nursing

Kaitlyn Francisco, NUR ’24, East Brunswick, NJ

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. It affected my tibia in my left leg and put a halt to my regular life. I was homeschooled for over a year and the main people I would see were my family and the nurses in the hospital.

Over and over I would see how much the nurses did for me, a lot of which went beyond their job description as a nurse. Whether it was remembering my preferences or buying me a donut from the bakery I loved, the nurses demonstrated true care and selflessness. This inspired me to apply to Penn to become an oncology nurse.

During my annual visit to the hospital, my nurse practitioner told me that I should apply for an externship over the summer to help me practice my skills and confirm my specialty interest. I applied for the Susan D. Flynn Oncology Nursing Fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. This is an oncology-focused externship that accepts 2 Penn students and 2 Villanova students and goes beyond the regular schedule of an extern. It includes additional opportunities to shadow advanced practice providers, visit other oncology floors, shadow other nursing jobs beyond bedside such as ethics managers, nurse navigators, and transplant coordinators to introduce us to other fields within nursing.

During my first week working, I found it extremely tough to keep up. Clinicals were typically once a week while this job was 3 or more times a week. Typical days were 7AM-7PM following an actual RN’s schedule, so I was not used to waking up at 5:30 AM and getting home at 7:30 PM, only to do the same thing the next day. Not only that, I was terrified of giving medications out of fear of messing up. I lacked confidence in my voice and my ability to speak to patients comfortably. But as the weeks went on I became confident in my skills and abilities and learned even more than I thought I would. I got into my routine and am comfortable walking into a patient’s room and striking up a conversation with them.

Some days were better than others and some patients were easier to speak to than others. Sometimes there would be patients who disliked that I was a student. As soon as I would walk in, they would be hostile and aggressive towards me and it would bring my confidence down. However, after my nurse advocated for me, I spoke with them, and demonstrated my abilities and skills, the patient would become calmer and friendlier. On the other hand, some patients would love that I am a student and would be more than willing to talk to me and let me learn.

After my 8 weeks at the hospital, I was able to confirm my interest in oncology. I loved my floor and the nurses on it. Everyone would always be willing to help and teach. Nurses who I was not assigned to would pull me into experiences so I could learn more. I hope to return to my floor once I graduate as a registered nurse.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services