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Cutting-Edge Nursing: Annette Sereika on the Challenges and Rewards of an Oncology Nurse

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 6:27 AM

Annette Sereika, APRN at the Kellogg Cancer Center and NorthShore Center for Personalized Medicine, comes from a family of nurses; in fact, you could say nursing is in her genes. The natural progression of her career, from NorthShore’s Neuro-Oncology Clinic to the Center for Personalized Medicine, reflects her passion for providing the best possible care and acquiring in-depth knowledge about the cutting-edge treatments that could dramatically improve outcomes for her patients. 

NorthShore is proud to have been the professional home Annette chose at the outset of her career and is honored that she has stayed with us. This National Nurses Week, we extend our thanks to Annette and every single one of our nearly 2,500 NorthShore University HealthSystem nurses.

Annette shares her story, from what brought her to NorthShore’s Kellogg Cancer Center to the rewards of caring for her patients:

When did you know you wanted to be a nurse? Was there a particular moment or experience that led to you this area of the medical field? 
There was no “lightning bolt” moment for me. Actually, I can’t remember a time when I did not want to be a nurse.  Providing healthcare seems to be in my “genes”—three of my sisters are in healthcare-delivery fields, as well as two aunts and several cousins.

Why oncology as a specialty?
It’s more like oncology chose me. I was given the opportunity to work in the Kellogg Cancer Center (KCC) in the early 1980s.  At that time, I was a young nurse looking for a change and a challenge.  A colleague who worked in the KCC recommended I interview for an open position. I still remember the group interview so clearly.  That was 1984 and I never left.

I learned quickly that this is a very special place to work.  The KCC exemplifies what it means to have a “team approach” to patient care, where physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychosocial support and the administration all work together to provide the best comprehensive care possible.  

Why was continuing your education by becoming a nurse practitioner with advanced practice certification in oncology so important to you?
I graduated from Loyola University with my BSN in 1981 but science and medicine have evolved so much since then.  I wanted to know more so that I could be a part of those changes in healthcare, especially in the field of oncology. 

Having an advanced degree as a nurse practitioner has provided me with more autonomy as a healthcare provider, but, it’s my years of direct-to-patient care that has given me an appreciation of the important role everyone plays in care.  My advanced degree has also enhanced my role as an educator, not just for my patients but for staff too.  I’m involved in the recent launch of the Personalized Medicine education module that is available to all clinicians on DevelopU.

Why have you now decided to work more closely with NorthShore’s new Center for Personalized Medicine?
Oncology is one of the first fields of medicine to recognize the role genetics plays in preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases.  For many years I worked in NorthShore’s Neuro-Oncology Clinic within the KCC.  I was involved in several clinical trials that used a patient’s genetic information to determine their treatment options, which was different from previous trials where everyone received the same therapy.  This was life changing for many of my patients; the ability to provide molecular analysis of a patient’s brain tumor played a huge role in determining the best treatment options and delivery strategies, which improved responses and minimized side effects.  For one young woman, molecular testing helped us create a treatment strategy that minimized her side effects.  This allowed her to continue her work as a nurse and raise her family. Similarly, another patient was able to continue to exercise throughout her therapy program and ran a marathon shortly after its completion. 

What impact has this new personalized treatment had on patient outcomes?
NorthShore’s ability to provide genetic and genomic testing has transformed our ability to tailor treatment decisions for patients not only in oncology but in other fields like cardiology, endocrinology, and neurology.  In March of this year, NorthShore launched the first pharmacogenomics clinic in the Chicago area.  The specialists in this clinic use genetic testing to provide information about a patient’s response to certain medications, including an adverse response. This allows doctors to provide the right drug at the right dose the first time. Our patients are medically savvy, and many are participating in NorthShore’s Genomic Health Initiative as they recognize the need for “cutting-edge” research to advance our understanding in this field.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?
I have met incredible, inspirational people, both patients and colleagues that have had a profound impact on my life. By far, the most rewarding aspect of my job is the relationship I develop with patients and their families.  And while in some cases the treatments provided don’t change the course of the disease, I’m convinced that the personalized, compassionate care we provide enhances their quality of life.

What do you find most challenging? 
Unfortunately the economics associated with healthcare are often very frustrating.  The costs of medical care and some medications can be thousands of dollars monthly and many people don’t have the insurance coverage or the finances for that.  Also, many insurances companies are still investigating their responsibility for coverage on some of the “cutting edge” areas of medicine. I spend a lot of time obtaining authorizations and appeals for recommended treatments.

What would you tell other men and women contemplating a career in nursing?
I think a career in healthcare is an excellent choice and the nursing field has a wide variety of possibilities: inpatient care, outpatient care and research are all available within many medical disciplines.  There are many opportunities for advancement.  Most importantly, as a nurse, you have the chance to make an important and meaningful impact on the lives of others. I am very proud to say I am a nurse.

This National Nurses Week, honor and recognize a NorthShore nurse by sharing your story or making a gift that will go to the Nursing STARS program at NorthShore. Find out more by clicking here.