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Business & Professional Women in Austin: Elisabeth King, RN, FNP-C, AGN-BC, AOCNP, CBCN, Advanced Practice Provider, Texas Oncology

Publication: The Jewish Outlook

Nursing is a broad field with many specialty areas. Why did you choose to be a nurse practitioner, and specifically focus on oncology?

I started at UT-Austin (Hook ‘em!) with plans to become a cancer researcher.  I wanted to make important discoveries that would help millions of people. While working towards my degree in human biology, I had the opportunity to work in a cancer research lab, and I loved it.  Eventually, I realized that I wanted to engage with patients directly. Turns out I am way too chatty to spend 40+ hours per week not talking to people! Working as an oncology nurse practitioner allows me to help people with cancer, but with the added bonus of developing relationships with cancer patients and their families. To this day, I believe that becoming a nurse practitioner was one of the best decisions I have ever made.    

You’ve been recognized for your extraordinary efforts to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Why did you get involved in that aspect of cancer? 

The mission of LLS is to ensure access to cures and treatments for blood cancers.  For me, caring for patients and supporting scientific inquiry are inseparable. LLS has invested more that $1 billion in blood cancer research and provided $240 million to help patients afford health insurance and prescription drug co-pays. The large underserved and rural populations associated with the Austin LLS chapter present unique challenges. In 2016, the Austin chapter provided $1,388,236.72 in co-pay assistance. Without LLS, many people would not have had access to their medications.  

What should people know about the unique challenges of a lymphoma or leukemia diagnosis?

One of the key challenges is understanding what a blood cancer is. A solid tumor is conceptually easier to comprehend for most patients. A blood cancer is similar to a solid tumor in that it starts a cell that has developed mutations over time, and is now dividing inappropriately. In blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, these cancer cells may or may not form into a solid mass, but will often crowd up the normal blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets) in the bone marrow. This can lead to life threatening infections, bleeding or anemia.  These patients may also have delays in diagnosis, or may look “less sick,” leading to less support from their networks. 

Describe a typical day in your role as an oncology nurse practitioner. 

My day includes seeing patients prior to getting chemotherapy – reviewing lab work and performing a physical exam. We discuss side effects, and how to manage those. I also see long term follow-up patients where we focus on healthy behaviors and ways to prevent their cancer from coming back. We have chemotherapy teaching visits, where we spend one on one time with patients. My favorite are the genetics visits. We review family history at length, discuss what testing would be appropriate and psychosocial implications. That I can help to prevent multiple cancers in a family is possibly even more rewarding than helping someone through their cancer journey.  

What inspires you most about your work?

I am continually inspired by the patients that I take care of who fight this disease with courage every day, as well as the families that support them. And I am also inspired by all of my colleagues within the oncology community, especially the strong female leaders who surround me. 

What career advice would you offer others considering this profession?

Be prepared to work hard!  Nurses are intellectually, physically and emotionally challenged every day; but it is extraordinarily rewarding work.  

What career goals are you working toward next?

I recently met with Texas lawmakers in Washington, D.C., as part of an advocacy program through the Oncology Nursing Society. Cancer patients don't have highly paid lobbyists advocating on their behalf, and I was proud to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of all Texans with cancer. I would love to become more involved in the important work that Texas Oncology does in health policy and advocacy.

Is there anything else you would like readers of The Jewish Outlook to know?

People of Ashkenazi Jewish decent are ten times more likely to have a BRCA mutation than people in the general population.  BRCA mutations lead to higher risks of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. Know your family history, and talk to your doctor (or nurse practitioner!) about whether you should consider genetic testing.

Read the full story from The Jewish Outlook.

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