Cindy Tsai, R.N.: Moving in different directions, but always with passion

May 24, 2016 | by City of Hope

Breakthroughs - Cindy Tsai Cindy Tsai

The Spanish flamenco is a challenging dance that requires expressive, snake-like movement of the arms contrasted with simultaneous, rapid-fire, rhythmic stamping of the feet. Known for its emotional intensity, it draws from many cultures, including the Roma (once known as gypsy).

City of Hope surgical nurse Cindy Tsai, R.N., loves everything about dancing the flamenco, but having moving experiences is nothing new to her.

Tsai, who celebrated her 10th year with City of Hope in February, said she is moved whenever she can “hold a patient’s hand and comfort them as they go under anesthesia. When I hear a sigh of relief through the phone as I tell family members that their loved ones are doing just fine in the OR. When a surgeon thanks me for a job well done at the end of an operation. When I can get a really complicated, technical machine to behave and run smoothly.”

As a surgical nurse, Tsai provides care and support to patients during the preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative periods. She also maintains a sterile environment in the operating room and works in conjunction with surgeons, anesthesiologists and scrub technicians to ensure safe care. Besides general oncology, her specialties include reconstruction surgery, neurosurgery, gynecologic and urologic surgery, supported by the tools of robotically assisted systems. 

Nursing, especially in the field of oncology, is a serious business that involves a daily dance between life and death. Likewise, in traditional flamenco, a certain emotional maturity is deemed essential to convey the duende (soul) of the dance. Therefore, many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until later in life.

What drives Tsai is more than a judge’s score or a performance review; it is forming bonds with patients and families. Tsai’s internal fire serves both of her passions.

Yet, she “kind of stumbled” into both flamenco and nursing. “My mom was the one who wanted me to become a nurse, because the profession reminds her of Buddhism’s spiritual figure for compassion, healing and mercy,” she said. “I didn’t really fall in love with being a nurse until the day I realized that what I do impacts my patients’ lives for the better.”

Likewise, she decided to try flamenco about a year and a half ago simply because she was looking for a “fun way to exercise.” Getting to wear a “big fluffy skirt” was a nice bonus.

“Flamenco is the polar opposite of surgery, which adds balance in my life,” she said. “Plus, all that foot stomping is a good way to relieve stress and keep me sane.”

Fluent in Mandarin and Taiwanese (and now pretty comfortable with “Olé!”), Tsai studied nursing at Pasadena City College and received her bachelor’s degree in science from Brandman University in Irvine, California. She worked as a nurse in a 32-bed medical/surgical unit at USC University Hospital for a year before joining City of Hope. “I saw an ad in a nursing profession magazine for City of Hope’s PeriOp training program and thought that was something different and exciting to try,” she recalled.

What motivates her as a nurse is seeing how cancer affects patients and their families. “What they go through is my motivation to thrive professionally,” she said, “because it’s the one way I know how to make a positive impact on a difficult human experience.”

Whether on the dance floor or in the operating room, Tsai has duende.

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Learn more about City of Hope’s nursing program.

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