April 17, 2019, Renton, Washington – Kathleen Shannon Dorcy, PhD, RN, FAAN, was awarded with the 2019 Dr. Ruth McCorkle Lectureship March 16 during the 41st Symposium of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society. She gave her lecture during a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington Hotel at Seattle’s Southport.
Kathleen, an Adrian Dominican Associate, spoke on the principle of balance in life – difficult to achieve, especially in a high-intensity profession such as oncology – and on how to build science into one’s professional life. At the end of the talk, she focused on gratitude, citing a study conducted in England in which nurses were encouraged to write in a journal every day three good experiences of that day. “You build a spirit of gratitude of all the good things in life, and you’re not as likely to feel dispirited,” Kathleen said.
“It really was an honor to receive this McCorkle Lectureship,” Kathleen said, “but it was also an honor for the people who have worked with me throughout my career. …The award tends to go to people who are mid- to late-career oncology nurses. It’s a recognition of contributions, but it’s also a recognition of the community of people who have worked with you, nominate you, and know your work.”
She compared the experience to the Academy Awards.
Kathleen’s career has taken her from the Swedish Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle, where she served in Orthopedics as a licensed practical nurse and then as a registered nurse in the hospital’s Pediatrics Department.
Earning a Master’s in Nursing, she became involved in cancer research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle as a research nurse (1989-2013) and as a staff scientist (2013-present). Since 2009 she has served at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance as Director of Research Development (2009-2015) and as Director of Clinical Nursing Research, Education, and Practice (2015-present).
In her early years as a cancer researcher, Kathleen said, hematologists pioneered treatment of children diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) with bone marrow transplants. “In 1968, 98% of children who were diagnosed with acute leukemia died, and now the survival rate is around 96%, due to use of bone marrow transplants to treat ALL.”
Kathleen moved from bedside to academic research and worked with both children and adults while teaching at the University of Washington, Tacoma Nursing Program. She developed and taught courses such as Thinking and Clinical Decision Making; Ethics in Healthcare; Knowing Health and Illness through the Arts; and Nursing Strategies for Community as Client.
Recently, Kathleen extended her care for cancer patients to the people of Uganda. In February 2018, she traveled to that country to lay the foundation for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s collaboration with the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) to train nurses to care for cancer patients. Delegations from the United States will continue to travel to Uganda to set up a curriculum for the UCI oncology nurses, enhancing the UCI nurses’ clinical capacity for early detection of cancer with timely and comprehensive treatment. Read more about the collaborative efforts here.
Oncology was not the career that Kathleen envisioned. “I set out to work in pediatrics and I loved pediatrics,” she said. But when the pediatrics unit that she led began receiving children who had had bone marrow transplants, she felt she had to leave. “I thought it would be so sad,” she said.
But before she could leave the pediatric unit, Kathleen found she was captivated at the courage of the children as they continued to play and celebrate small moments of joy in the midst of their treatments. “It was a gift of the Spirit to find myself in oncology pediatrics,” she said.
April 12, 2018, Kampala, Uganda – Cancer patients in Uganda face an uphill battle. Often, by the time they are diagnosed, they are already terminally ill. In addition, Uganda is tragically underserved in the area of health care: only one cancer center in the country and nine nurses per 10,000 people.
Kathleen Shannon Dorcy, an Adrian Dominican Associate and a 35-year oncology nurse, is part of a collaborative effort that hopes to change this situation in Uganda by offering training and support to the country’s nurses.
As one of two nurses travelling to Uganda Kathleen helped lay the foundation for a collaborative effort between the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) and the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI). Kathleen is the Director of Clinical/Nursing Research, Education and Practice for SCCA and staff scientist of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The trip was the most recent step in the collaborative efforts of health care organizations between Seattle and Uganda. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) opened a research, training, and patient care facility in 2015 in Kampala, Uganda, and have engaged with Ugandan medical practice and education at UCI and Makarere University.
Because Uganda has only one cancer care center, patients may travel hundreds of miles to get there – often arriving with advance stage disease requiring chemotherapy, possibly radiation and palliative care, Kathleen said.
During the recent, week-long trip Kathleen and Arlyce Coumar, RN, dedicated time to understanding oncology care in Uganda. “While at the UCI we got to know the nurses and the clinical setting and we met patients and families as well as explored the scope of clinical care offered.” Kathleen explained. While there, Kathleen and Arlyce taught three classes to more than 100 people, celebrated World Cancer Day at the Parliament Plaza in Kampala, and worked with the UCI nurse and medical leadership to identify next steps in the collaborative efforts to improve cancer outcomes.
Kathleen envisions a sustained relationship between SCCA and UCI nurses. She and another nurse-led delegation will be returning to Uganda twice in the next 12 months. In these visits the delegations will work with the National Oncology Nurse Society to set up a curriculum for the UCI nurses. “We want to augment clinical orientation and Oncology competency to create a dedicated Uganda Cancer Nurse Fellowship Program.
The project is based on the World Health Organization imperative urging highly-resourced countries to help under resourced countries to improve health outcomes, Kathleen noted. “Closely observing the UCI staff daily work in such a complex clinical setting, overcoming obstacles like limited water resources, no air-conditioning in temperatures of 90 to 100 degrees, scarce medical supplies, and very ill patients was totally awe inspiring,” she said.
Kathleen attributes prompting of the Holy Spirit – or St. Catherine – with the formal resolve to find ways to address the needs of the UCI nurses and patients. “Somebody had to make it happen,” she said. “We had to take the first step and figure it out. It is an ongoing commitment of reflection, identification of the needs and finding ways to meet immediate needs and development of a strategic long path toward better screening and earlier diagnoses. For us it has been an incredibly exciting yet challenging and humbling journey.”
To read more about the ongoing collaborative work to treat cancer in Uganda, click here.