Caring is in all of us, and nurses truly embody that spirit. Independence Blue Cross received nearly 700 submissions for its Celebrate Caring campaign. We are honored to share the stories of our top 10 finalists, including Cecilia Bermudez, oncology nurse at Reading Hospital-Tower Health.
Cecilia Bermudez used to be a chemistry tutor at a private liberal arts college. She often tutored college students who were eager to get into the nursing program. As a graduate with a B.S. in Biology, she did not fully appreciate the passion to get into nursing school until she started asking questions about their motivations. The responses were varied, but there was a recurring theme: “I want to make a difference in the world by helping sick people.”
According to Cecilia, “I thought it was a superficial statement, but it made me curious enough to reconsider a career in nursing. The thought terrified me. My sister was an operating room nurse and had been telling me to go to nursing school for years. Call it a calculated defiance, but I vowed never to become a nurse.” Soon, however, Cecilia changed her mind and found herself sitting in a classroom full of enthusiastic nursing students.
A few years later when she graduated from nursing school, she told her sister, “I hope I made the right decision to change career paths.” Cecilia also said that she hoped to become an amazing nurse just like her sister. Her sister responded with a reassuring smile, “I’m sure you will.”
A Bright Spot in a Tough Unit
Since her graduation from nursing school almost nine years ago, Cecilia has taken on many different nursing roles, but it was only when she joined the Medical-Surgical/Oncology unit at Reading Hospital-Tower Health (Reading Hospital) that she found her niche.
When Cecilia first started working in the oncology unit, she felt the immense sadness of not being able to help her end-of-life patients heal. She soon realized that this grief was shared by many of her colleagues. Compassion fatigue and burnout are true concerns in oncology nursing.
To lift the spirits of her colleagues, Cecilia started decorating their break room in order to provide a comfortable area to relax and unplug from the chaotic world on the floor. The kitchen sink became a small café station with a coffee machine, while the bare walls were decorated with posters and stickers of motivational quotes, such as, “Take a deep breath! Now, go out there and be a rock star for our patients!”
Supporting Nurses Who Provide End-of-Life Care
Cecilia continues to advocate for her fellow nurses as it translates into delivering the best patient care possible. Cecilia’s vision of creating a peaceful, shared space aligned well with Reading Hospital’s Relationship-Based Care model, and with Code Lavender, a project where colleagues provide support for nurses managing emotionally difficult and end-of-life care. Nurses receive a kit containing dark chocolate, chamomile tea, strips of bubble packaging to relieve stress, a bottle of bubbles, and a laminated paper containing inspiring quotes. A massage chair and trained Reiki practitioner are also available to help relieve stress and manage grief. For Cecilia, supporting the emotional health of nurses and fighting burnout is crucial because it helps nurses deliver exceptional care in an environment that can be tough at times.
A True Calling
As an oncology nurse, Cecilia gets to know each patient, embracing their unique customs and cultures and taking the time to learn what is most important to each patient and their family members. She consistently goes above beyond, even bringing in favorite foods that aren’t on the hospital menu to help patients on chemotherapy eat. Cecilia’s gentle and compassionate care of a dying young mother illustrates her intuitive caring nature that makes all the difference. She sat with the mother, whispering gently in her ear, reassuring her that her family was near, that her children were in good hands, and that she wouldn’t be alone.
Starting the Conversation: Advance Care Planning and Advance Directives
According to Cecilia, one of the other difficult parts about being an oncology nurse is that many patients have not completed advanced directives that address their end-of-life wishes. Evidence-based practice suggests that nurses are in a unique position to present advance directives to patients.
Cecilia is a few months away from completing her doctorate in Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice (AGNP-DNP). As part of her doctoral scholarly inquiry project, she is working to improve the process for offering each patient the opportunity to discuss end-of-life care and make wishes known through advanced directives. She also wants to empower nurses to start conversations about advance care planning as they are in an exceptional position to create caring relationships with their patients.
Going Above and Beyond
In addition to her day-to-day job and her doctoral studies, Cecilia also teaches, precepts, and mentors nursing students and novice nurses, strongly advocating for her students to pursue advanced degrees. “It is absolutely possible to balance life, work, and school with just the right amount of planning, hard work, support, and grit,” she says.
She also tells her students how important it is to serve their community. Cecilia provides blood pressure screenings in her community and volunteers for local churches. This has reinforced her passion for volunteering, which she enthusiastically encourages others to do as well. “I have seen the need for love and companionship in our older adult and geriatric population. Nurse volunteerism is incredibly essential in our communities!”