Anne Ireland, M.S.N., R.N., was looking to make a move to a major cancer center, and California was calling out to her.
She was director of clinical practice at University of Vermont Medical Center, an oncology nurse with an excellent track record, and City of Hope was high on her list. So in early 2013, she made the trip west.
“I wanted to work in a large NCI comprehensive cancer center, and heard that City of Hope had several nursing leadership positions open,” Ireland said. “I came to interview in January and it was 80 degrees! Back in Vermont it was minus-20. That had an impact.”
Ireland interviewed, met the people she’d be working with, and walked the gardens. She fell in love with the facility and decided City of Hope was a perfect fit. “I took a picture of the Golter Gate, texted it to my husband and said, ‘this is it.’ So here I am.”
She’s done much to distinguish herself in the past five years. Ireland, clinical director of the Solid Tumor Program, played a leading role in designing City of Hope’s new ambulatory care model, creating disease-specific clinics with multidisciplinary care teams that stay with patients during their entire journey.
“Before, patients would have to move from department to department,” Ireland said. “They’d always be meeting different people, and it was challenging for patients to make a connection. Now, patients get to know everyone on their care team, whether they need surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy — the team includes psychosocial services and financial counseling. And the place they come to get that care stays consistent, as well.”
Serving as lead nurse during the design and implementation of the ambulatory care model was one of the factors noted when the Oncology Nurses Society (ONS) elected Ireland to its board of directors earlier this year. It’s a significant honor that validates Ireland’s lifelong dedication to patient care.
Nursing is an amazing profession where patients trust you with their lives and their loved one’s lives,” she said. “At City of Hope, our patients can see that we care about them as people. This drives us to continually improve our processes and our care. We have lots of work to do yet, but we are relentless in our pursuit of excellence.”
Passion, Dedication and Leadership
Ireland joined ONS when she moved from Canada to Vermont, and soon after became the founding president of the Northern Vermont chapter. She had been a member of a similar Canadian organization and was attracted to ONS’s commitment to promoting quality education for nurses.
“When I first moved to Burlington, the closest ONS chapter was a 90-minute drive away,” she said. “It was too far for most people to drive for an evening educational program, so I invited a few of the local oncology nurses to meet in the waiting room at the practice where I worked, and we decided to start our own chapter.”
A professional association with more than 300 chapters across the U.S., the ONS promotes excellence in oncology nursing and aims to continually improve cancer care by developing leading-edge education programs, with a large foundation that provides scholarships, grants and other resources.
Ireland is now one of 10 ONS national board members, contributing to the development of strategic planning, monitoring and priority-setting for the organization. She’ll be visiting the ONS headquarters in Pittsburgh once every quarter.
“I have fiduciary responsibility,” she said. “I’ll actively participate in the budgeting process and conduct the annual performance evaluation of the CEO.” She’ll also act as a voice for ONS to help promote the society’s mission.
It’s the latest example of Ireland’s leadership and passion for patient care, defined by a team concept and personal connection with each patient. That philosophy was embodied in her role in designing the ambulatory care model, a huge undertaking that created 12 new clinics throughout City of Hope.
The logistics were daunting. Equipment had to be moved, staff had to be retrained and everybody had to learn to work together within their new teams. But the effort was definitely worth it, she said.
“Basically, we transitioned our ambulatory care clinics to disease-based models,” said Ireland, director of six solid tumor clinics. “Each clinic focuses on the care of patients with a specific cancer and creates a care team around their specific needs. It has been challenging, but it creates more of a comfort level for the patients. It also develops broader knowledge across the entire care team.”
The new model demands more of every staff member to ensure that “patients get the care we would want our loved one to receive if they were here.”
A Personal Touch
Ireland was inspired to become a nurse by an older cousin she admired. Growing up on a farm in New Brunswick, Ireland looked up to her cousin and considered her a role model, so when she became a nurse, Ireland decided to follow in her footsteps.
“I was a young teen and I just thought my cousin was the coolest girl,” Ireland said. “She was a nurse, so I thought that would be a great direction for me.”
Ireland found her true calling, taking on many roles in her mission to provide the highest quality patient care. Aside from her ONS duties and overseeing the Solid Tumor Program, she’s currently involved in implementing the advanced Epic electronic health records system at City of Hope.
But Ireland’s still an oncology nurse at heart, a job she fell in love with early in her career.
One of the things I love about oncology nursing is that you get to know patients and for a long period of time,” she said. “You get to know the patients and their families and make a real connection; they are like your extended family. It is truly a privilege.”
Ireland enjoys her down time, as well. On weekends, she and husband Mark take off in their retro Mustang convertible for rides through the mountains, to the beach, and up Pacific Coast Highway for wine-tasting adventures.
California’s climate may have been a factor in her move out west, but that was just a side benefit to working at a world-class cancer center — and playing a leading role in shaping its future.
“At City of Hope, I feel we have a true sense of purpose. We know and believe that we do important work,” Ireland said. “It took a village to get as far as we have, and we still have work to do to continually improve upon our commitment to patient-centered care.”
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