Alene Nitzky, Ph.D., RN, OCN
Alene Nitzky has an inspiring life story of how her career has evolved from a non-health care related field into a strong advocate and source of strength for patients and families going through the cancer care spectrum.
I have been blessed to interview many nurse innovators and entrepreneurs over the past several months, but none have had as unique a path that leads them to their current career as Alene Nitzky, Ph.D., RN, OCN. Her journey toward helping cancer patients, families, the healthcare system and community at large is inspiring. Her journey includes caring for and listening to her own needs and will encourage all of us to rethink how we can truly affect our patients and families.
Starting the Journey
At present Alene is a Registered Nurse certified in Oncology with critical care experience, but she started her career far from bedside care. In fact, she did not start out in healthcare at all but rather in natural resources. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources Recreation. Her doctoral program was in the health benefits of leisure. Arlene studied both the psychosocial and physiologic aspects of recreation behavior and the health benefits of leisure in the outdoor setting. She also taught at the college level in exercise science for a few years, and then started a personal training business to work specifically with older people with chronic health conditions. "While doing that, I was learning so much about their health conditions, medications, and the disease processes that I felt I needed a medical or healthcare background. I ended up going to nursing school!"
Carving Her Own Niche
Alene has been through the healthcare system as a patient and had a sister diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Her father also has a chronic form of leukemia that is currently in remission. "As a family member of someone with cancer, it is hard to watch the effects of the gaps in care and information for people with cancer during and after treatment. These experiences were pivotal in making me want to do a better job for patients."
With this passion for patients with cancer all along the care spectrum, Alene started her own business where she develops support programs that focus on improving the quality of life and health for cancer survivors in her community. Her work encompasses coaching individuals who are often in the phase between finishing cancer treatments and trying to regroup and regain control over their own lives again. These individuals also struggle with regaining confidence in their bodies once treatment is over. She also works with individuals who are either in the middle of ongoing treatment or have chosen palliative- only interventions.
Alene states that "I teach the public about cancer at every opportunity. I write articles on topics related to how different healthcare industry practices impact cancer patients' lives, I teach classes and speak to many different groups about cancer and health concerns." Alene has developed two programs that support her mission in advocating and empowering patients at whatever stage of the cancer journey they are in.
The first is called Cancer Harbors which is a six-month coaching program that addresses a comprehensive range of concerns common to many cancer patients after treatment ends.
The second is FIERCE, which is a class that encourages movement and physical activity, and introduces cancer survivors to different therapeutic movement and mind-body modalities that help in healing. It provides social support, learning, and community resources.
As if this doesn't keep her busy enough, Alene is working on publishing her first book that will go to press this fall called, Navigating the C: A Nurse Charts the Course on Cancer Survivorship Care. Her book will showcase the ideas behind the two programs she runs. "I think working nurses' voices need to be heard in the discussions about healthcare policy, legislation, and operations. The nurses who work directly with patients are the ones who need to steer the future of healthcare as much as physicians, administrators, or policymakers. My book talks about values- and living true to those values, no matter what your role in healthcare is."
One of Alene's biggest barriers is getting the time with physicians, and potential patients to have her ideas heard. "But that's why I am writing the book. It gives me the chance to get it all out there and I am not limited to a 10-minute talk or a 2-minute video presentation. I get to showcase my work to the individuals who can benefit from it." Getting the word out about post cancer treatment is imperative to Alene. This is a time of great angst for patients. They have anxiety about recurrence as well as not being as closely followed by their treatment team. She would like to get policy and practice in place where these patients can be taught what reasonable self-expectations are, regarding activity level, fatigue, healing, and goal setting that is realistic for themselves in a year or two after treatment so that they don't get discouraged. This kind of care is innovative and getting health care professionals, administrators and policymakers to think about these patients after their active cancer care is finished is the most challenging part of Alene's entrepreneurial experience.
A Word of Advice for Aspiring Innovators
"Really examine your own values, and what you really want to get out of the work you do? What is most important to you, makes you happy? Find mentors, people who encourage you. You need to be willing to set a long-term vision for yourself, and not expect things to happen quickly. Money helps, but it isn't everything. Network, talk to as many people as you can, if you are enthusiastic about your work, it will show and people will be drawn to you."
Passionate is the single word that comes to my mind as I write about Alene Nitzky. She has evolved herself, her career, and her life around a passionate, caring heart for patients who need it the most. She uses her knowledge accumulated through lifelong learning and experience not only as a nurse but in all of the areas of her formal education. Her ideas have grown through the experiences of others and her willingness to really listen to the patient, family, and caregiver's needs. It takes great passion to bring your ideas to fruition in an innovative market. I can't wait to hear more about how far Alene's passion takes her into the future of healthcare!Last edit by tnbutterfly on Jun 14, '18
About Sarah Matacale, BSN, RN
My name is Sarah Matacale RN, BSN, CCS. I have been blessed to interview many innovators in the field of nursing and love sharing their stories with you!
Joined: Jan '17; Posts: 47; Likes: 379