Colleen Villamin claims $15,000 nurse-oncologist prize

Arceneaux Award honors stem cell oncology nurse

MD Anderson News Release 05/28/13

Colleen Villamin, BSN, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is the recipient of the 2013 Ethel Fleming Arceneaux Outstanding Nurse-Oncologist Award. Established by The Brown Foundation, Inc. in 1982, the award is the institution’s highest nursing honor.

A committee of MD Anderson’s clinical faculty, patient care administration and nursing staff reviewed award nominations by peers and patients. They narrowed the selection to three finalists before ultimately naming Villamin as their top choice. She works in MD Anderson’s Department of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy.

Villamin will receive a cash award of $15,000, a crystal plaque and a commemorative pin at 2 p.m. June 5 in the Onstead Auditorium in MD Anderson’s George and Cynthia Mitchell Basic Sciences Research Building. Ronald DePinho, M.D., MD Anderson president, will lead the award ceremony.

With tears of joy, Villamin reacted to a surprise announcement April 30 as co-workers, friends and members of the selection committee greeted her with a plaque, a bouquet of flowers and an uproar of applause. (Watch the video)

“It was quite a surprise and such an honor,” Villamin says. “The former winners have changed the history of nursing at MD Anderson. These are tremendous shoes to fill, and for my name to be in the same list as theirs is amazing. I’m very humbled.”

Villamin came to MD Anderson in 2003 and joined the institution’s stem cell unit in 2005. She says she’s helped care for older family members since she was 12.

“It was natural for me to fall into nursing because this is something I’ve always done,” she says. “My grandmother died of breast cancer when I was a baby, so I felt fortunate to live in Houston where we have the best cancer center in the world. It was a very high goal for me to become a nurse here because I thought this would be where I could give the most.”

She recently helped launch the Individualized Care Planning initiative in MD Anderson’s stem cell unit. This goal-oriented system relies on a blend of compassion and enhanced communication to improve outcomes for patients who are long-term and/or have highly complicated cases. The program started as a volunteer effort among stem cell nurses, and now, a little over a year later, they’ve created more than 70 care plans.

“We go into patients’ rooms and say, ‘I understand you’ve been here a long time. Let’s talk about your concerns and make sure we’re meeting all of your needs,’” Villamin says. “So you’re getting a little taste of their stories and putting them on paper.”

Next week, Villamin will move from the stem cell unit to the Thoracic and & Cardiovascular Surgery Department.

“That’s a completely different patient population, so I’ll be learning another skill,” she says. “Those patients will have their own needs, and I’ll have to find how to meet them. It’ll mean new challenges and new rewards at the same time.”

Villamin was born near Chicago and graduated from Texas Woman’s University in 2006. She is enrolled in the Master’s in Nursing for Clinical Nurse Leadership Program at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. She expects to graduate in May 2014 and plans on pursuing her Ph.D. in nursing immediately thereafter.

“I genuinely care about our patients and that’s what drives me,” she says. “These patients have taught me so much about dignity, courage and the will to live.”

After obtaining her Ph.D., Villamin hopes to engage in more oncology nursing research at the bedside, with a focus on improving patient outcomes. She would also like to teach nursing in her spare time.