Caring and Curing: Oncology Nurse Practitioner Helps Deliver New Hope to Hematology Patients

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Belen Rodriguez-Clinchard, RN, and Amber Thomassen, APRN, are just two of the dedicated and skilled nurses at Sylvester who work tirelessly to provide exceptional patient care and support to patient families.

Belen Rodriguez-Clinchard, RN, and Amber Thomassen, APRN, are just two of the dedicated and skilled nurses at Sylvester who work tirelessly to provide exceptional patient care and support to patient families.
From left: Belen Rodriguez-Clinchard, RN, and Amber Thomassen, APRN

For Oncology Nurse Practitioner Amber Thomassen, no two days are the same, and that is just how she likes it. The team manager of research clinical operations at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center seamlessly transitions between her clinical, administrative, and academic roles. While she takes great pride in being a sub-investigator on more than 20 clinical trials, overseeing nursing operations in the experimental therapeutic clinic, and supervising the nurse practitioner (NP) fellows, Thomassen most cherishes her role as a nurse and the personal connections she makes with her leukemia patients.

“It is an honor and privilege to be the person patients look to for comfort, guidance, or reassurance in really tough times,” said Thomassen, an APRN-BC, AOCNP. “Sometimes their road is not easy. That is when we, as nurses, need to offer extra support and encouragement to help our patients see the worth in their fight.”

Working in Phase 1 hematology research, Thomassen is on the front line in the cure for cancer every day and finds it empowering.

“I have seen patients with leukemia in remission by taking a pill. That is huge!” said Thomassen. “I truly have the best job in the world. I get to live in the future. I get to see little glimpses of things that are coming down the line. Nothing is more exciting than giving a patient with cancer hope where they previously had none. It is life-changing.”

She acknowledges that while not every cancer patient’s story ends positively, sometimes just giving someone extra time with their family is priceless. She recalls one of her favorite patients, a woman with acute myeloid leukemia who came to Sylvester after her community doctor said that they had exhausted all treatment plans and she only had a month or two left to live.

“She did not want to accept that. She had too much to live for,” said Thomassen. “She told me she had two grandchildren getting married later that year and she wanted to be at their weddings. She also had a granddaughter who was pregnant, and she wanted to meet her first great-grandchild. Through the drug trial she was able to participate in all these cherished moments and more.”

Found Purpose While Training at Sylvester

While giving patients the time and quality of life to do the things they want to do is certainly one rewarding aspect of her job, Thomassen says supervising and mentoring the NP fellows is equally fulfilling.

Sylvester’s Hematology/Oncology Nurse Practitioner Fellowship Program played a fundamental role in shaping who she is today. In 2017, Thomassen became the first fellow to graduate from the program, which is one of nine in the country accredited for oncology training specifically for new NPs in the field. It was during the intense year-long training program that she first became interested in hematology and research. She has stayed on that track ever since.

As South Florida’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, Sylvester offers the largest Phase 1 clinical trials program in South Florida. Thomassen is part of a team studying novel therapies to treat and cure leukemia and other blood cancers. She finds Phase 1 experimental therapeutics to be a fascinating field of study, working with drugs that are in early development to offer patients treatments with the potential to improve their outcomes.

Amber Thomassen, APRN
Amber Thomassen, APRN

“The doctors, nurses, even coordinators from the administrative side, we all work together in clinical research,” said Thomassen. “When abstracts or articles are submitted, the nurses are included on those. We are very much a part of the process and acknowledged for our contributions.”

Personal Connection

Thomassen plays a vital role in the research process, as she is responsible not just for enrolling patients in the clinical studies — which includes explaining the mechanism of the investigational drug and study logistics — but she also performs bone marrow biopsies and other screenings, conducts physical exams, collects adverse event reports, and, most importantly, provides the exceptional patient care for which Sylvester is known.

“All of my patients have my personal number and know they can call me if they need anything — day or night, weekend, holiday, it does not matter. I am always there for them,” said Thomassen. “I let them know they are never alone at Sylvester.”

It is not surprising that Thomassen treats each patient with compassion and care, as she knows firsthand how meaningful that can be. Her older sister had intellectual and developmental disabilities and a seizure disorder, so when Thomassen was growing up, the family spent a great deal of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. She always appreciated and admired the nurses who cared for her sister and supported her parents. That care and support left an impression on her.

“I think treating my patients the way I would want someone to treat me, or my family, is the most important thing I can do as a nurse,” she said. “I have told every student and every trainee I’ve ever had to remember that when dealing with patients.”

Those are wise words from someone who embodies both the scientific and compassionate sides of nursing.

A Vital Role in Patient Care

“Nurses are caregivers, innovators, educators, and leaders,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, executive dean for research, the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, and professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology at the Miller School of Medicine. “Amber and each one of our dedicated and skilled nurses work tirelessly to provide exceptional patient care and support to patient families. Sylvester nurses are vital to our mission, not only in delivering the highest quality care, but in helping our patients navigate the complexities of cancer treatment. This week we honor Amber and all our nurses for their unwavering commitment to our patients.”

May 6-12 is National Nurses Week as well as Oncology Nursing Month, a time to honor Sylvester and UHealth nurses who serve patients with devotion, utmost care, and exceptional professionalism. We invite you to celebrate a nurse who has made a difference in your life or that of a loved one by making a gift in their honor.

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