The UNM Cancer Center's Doctor Julie Bauman and nurses Olivia Reynolds and Barbara Damron recently earned recognition in their fields from national organizations. Bauman, head and neck cancer specialist, is among just a handful of outstanding physicians around the country honored with the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award for 2011. Damron was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing, one of the most prestigious honors in the field of nursing. Reynolds was nominated for Cure magazine's 2011 Extraordinary Healer Award, given annually by the country's leading consumer cancer magazine to honor nurses of exceptional compassion, expertise and helpfulness.
The NCI award recognizing Bauman's exceptional leadership in cancer clinical trials and commitment to advancing care for patients comes with a grant award of $50,000 per year for two years, designed to further her clinical research activities. The award is a win for New Mexicans facing head and neck cancers, Bauman's area of expertise and the focus of her successful efforts to open new clinical trials in New Mexico.
"Dr. Bauman couldn't be more deserving of this award," said Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. "It is an intensely competitive honor that only a few clinicians nationwide achieve each year. The fact that the UNM Cancer Center has had two recipients since the award's inception in 2009 underscores the excellence of the physicians and researchers who serve the people of New Mexico."
Melanie Royce, a nationally known breast cancer specialist who leads the UNM Cancer Center's Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Program, received the NCI Clinical Investigator Award in 2009.
"This is a great honor and privilege," said Bauman, assistant professor of hematology/oncology and director of the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Working Group at the UNM Cancer Center, as well as chair of the Protocol Monitoring and Review Committee at the New Mexico Cancer Care Alliance. "I am grateful for the opportunity to expand our efforts to design and conduct high-quality clinical trials in head and neck cancer – aiming to improve survival and survivorship in this devastating disease."
Trained dually in medical oncology and public health, Bauman has focused her academic career on clinical and translational research in head and neck cancer. She joined the UNM Cancer Center in 2008. Shortly thereafter, she founded the Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Working Group, which has opened 13 clinical trials of new treatments for head and neck cancer patients in just two years. These include a multicenter study evaluating a new treatment combination for incurable head and neck cancer, and a translational study investigating a promising new therapeutic strategy based on scientific discoveries made at the UNM Cancer Center. Before her arrival, there were no open treatment trials for head and neck cancer patients.
Damron is one of just two American Academy of Nursing 2011 fellows from New Mexico. Jean Giddens, executive dean, UNM College of Nursing, is the other New Mexico honoree. This year's fellows hail from all 50 states and four other countries.
"We are thrilled for Dr. Damron," Willman said. "She brings 35 years of oncology nursing expertise – as a practitioner, researcher, teacher and leader – and an extraordinary passion for community outreach and engagement to her diverse roles at the UNM Cancer Center. She is so deserving of this award."
Damron directs the UNM Cancer Center's Office of Community Partnerships & Cancer Health Disparities, which reaches more than 12,000 New Mexicans each year with potentially life-saving cancer information, screenings and provider referrals. She also directs oncology nursing research and community development and advocacy at the center.
Damron is also associate professor at the UNM College of Nursing. She was recently appointed as senior fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at UNM. In this role, she will use her nursing and social sciences training to help guide health services research and health policy analysis at the state and national levels.
"I am extremely honored by this award," Damron said. "As a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, I look forward to finding new ways to take part in national discussions over health policies and health care delivery – bringing our experiences here in New Mexico to a broader audience, and bringing important insights and best practices from around the country back to New Mexico."
"I love my patients." This is one of the first, among many, heartfelt declarations Reynolds makes when speaking about the cancer patients she works with every day at the UNM Cancer Center.
Her patients return the affection. So much so that one nominated her for Cure magazine's Extraordinary Healer Award. Reynolds is among fewer than 150 oncology nurses nationwide nominated this year by patients and peers.
As a nurse clinical trials coordinator at the UNM Cancer Center, Reynolds' work with patients starts almost as soon as they receive a cancer diagnosis. She explains the standard of care – the established approach to treatment – for a particular type of cancer, then helps patients explore their options for new and experimental therapies through research studies known as clinical trials. If a patient decides to enroll in a study, Reynolds and her colleagues guide the person through every step of the process. The scope of the work clinical trials coordinators and research nurses do is enormous, and includes everything demystifying complicated medical terminology, scheduling additional tests and appointments, handling the intensive record keeping associated with clinical trials, emotionally supporting patients and their families, and administering therapeutic drugs.
Reynolds is especially suited to handling the disparate parts of her job, having worked not only in nursing, but also in the administrative side of health care. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, Reynolds decided to move from administration back into nursing with a focus on cancer care. One of her goals, she said, is to put a face on health care and be a steady and comforting point of contact in a system and situation that can be overwhelming.
Based on the praise-filled patient letter that led to her Extraordinary Healer nomination, Reynolds is clearly meeting that goal. The letter highlights her ever-present smile, an especially comforting sight to her patients and colleagues; her ability to connect with patients in a way that invites them to call on her help no matter the circumstance; and an absolutely unflagging loyalty to her patients.
In response to such praise, Reynolds is quick to acknowledge the team she works with, calling them "an invaluable source of support." She also makes a point to reflect most of the praise back to her patients. "They come in every week," she said. "Sometimes they are scared, sometimes they are angry, and to think they make the time to honor us, it's incredible."
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