Laura Pachella ended up in oncology by accident.
Born into a family of nurses, Pachella earned her BSN from Ramapo College of New Jersey in 2008, and then set out to land a nursing job in New York City. The exact field didn’t really matter – she really just wanted to work in the big city. Inpatient medical oncology happened to be the job she got.
It was emotionally challenging at first but she soon came to love the field, and to realize that education was key to providing the best care possible.
“Someone has to be there with these patients,” she says. “Someone has to help them when they’re in pain. Someone has to help them when they’re nauseous and vomiting. Someone has to help them when they’re dying. If I’m the person that is so graced to do that, let me do the best job I can with it.”
Pachella was accepted to Columbia University’s School of Nursing, where she earned her MSN in 2013. It was around that time, while trying to figure out her next step, that she then found MD Anderson’s Post Graduate Fellowship in Oncology Nursing. Though she had never been to Texas, the opportunity to come to MD Anderson, “where the latest and greatest things are always going on,” appealed to her.
Nurse training helps grow new skills
The fellowship’s structure allowed her to work with experts in multiple fields and treat patients with several different conditions. In addition to giving Pachella deep insight and experience in cancer care, the program also gave her the confidence and skills to contribute to the practice of nursing on a larger scale, she says. APRN Fellows complete the program with a capstone paper, in which they take a deep dive into the literature on some aspect of cancer patient care.
“We collected all the info, put it together and published it. That was really exciting. I didn’t think that was something I was capable of. But working on the project for a year, I understood the steps. It’s definitely something that is possible and that all nurses are capable of.”
Improving nursing practice
Publishing is something Pachella still does today as an APRN in MD Anderson’s Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery department. Recently, she was charged with the long-term monitoring and care of patients who’ve had large sections of their esophagus removed due to esophageal cancer. When she found that there was no good, concise material available on caring for these patients, she wrote it herself. That paper is currently out for publishing.
This sort of effort allows Pachella to have an impact far beyond her own clinic. Regardless of where patients are actually receiving care, she can support them on their cancer journey through the skills she developed as an APRN Fellow. “As a nurse, everyone is my patient. I advocate for the ones that walk in my clinic most strongly….But any patient that’s going through this experience, I went to school to help them.”