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The unique role of nurses at City of Hope, and why they stay

Chief Nursing Officer Susan Brown discusses nursing research and an expanded residency program created with donor support: “it’s one of the best in the country.”

Periodically the Office of Philanthropy invites City of Hope® leaders, faculty and researchers for a conversation to learn more about them and their groundbreaking work. 

We spoke with Susan J. Brown about helping recent nursing graduates receive the training they need to begin work, and the critical role of nursing in City of Hope’s research activities. Brown is senior vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer at City of Hope. She has more than 30 years of leadership experience in oncology at academic medical centers, community hospitals and health care systems.

Susan Brown
Susan J. Brown, Ph.D., M.S.N., R.N., CENP


Could you tell us how you chose a nursing career? 

I was not one of those people who always wanted to be a nurse. I had worked my way through college as a paramedic in an emergency room in a trauma center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Then I joined the Air Force to see the world and get out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. So, I moved to San Antonio, Texas, and saw San Antonio for four years. I loved it. The Air Force taught me a lot about leadership, about how to be a good person. While I was there, I had exposure to an oncology unit and fell in love with it and knew that was my calling. I’ve now been an oncology nurse for 44 years. I’ve had the opportunity to move back and forth across the country a couple of times. 

What role does nursing play in getting research to the bedside? 

If not for nursing, you wouldn’t be able to translate any of our exciting new research into a patient population. The nurses are there at the bedside 24/7 to administer the newly invented drug, to administer the newly created CAR T cells. Imagine the responsibility for that nurse who is giving a drug to a human being for the very first time. 

Nursing obviously does a lot more than working with patients on clinical trials. Nurses are also truly here for emotional support. They celebrate the good things that happen, celebrate when a patient gets discharged, even when a birthday happens. It’s also the nurse who is sitting at the bedside with the patient and the family when their life is ending. Nurses are there at a patient’s most vulnerable times. The nurses accompany the patient on a journey that they never asked to take.  

City of Hope received Magnet® recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center for the first time in 2021. Why is this significant? 

The ANCC Magnet recognition involves writing a very long document giving examples of how we meet about 150 different standards of care from patient satisfaction metrics, nurse satisfaction metrics, use of evidence-based practice, all the way to nursing research. It’s important because less than 20% of the hospitals in the country have Magnet recognition.  

What’s special about nursing at City of Hope? 

Nationally, the turnover rate for R.N.s is 25% to 27% a year. In California, turnover for R.N.s is about 18% or 20%. We are at 8%, and I think that’s because our nurses love what they do with our patients and families. 

We’ve also got a really great leadership development program that is doing a lot to retain our nursing leaders at City of Hope. We have the great beginnings of a nursing research program. We have some of the most well-funded, well-known nurse researchers in the country. We’re bringing nursing research to the bedside and letting our frontline nurses figure out how to solve every day, real life problems in patient care by doing their own smaller research studies. 

Also, our nurse residency program is very strong.  

Tell us more about that. 

The Alan & Marlene Norton Nurse Residency Program is one of the best in the country. It’s a daunting task for new nurses to come out of school into the work setting, where you now have to be responsible. A lot of hospitals

have a nurse residency program, but with philanthropic support, we were able to expand on ours and make it a bit unique. The Alan & Marlene Norton Nurse Residency Program really helped us give a little extra attention, a little extra space, a little extra time, to these new graduate nurses. They go with a preceptor and work at the hip with that experienced nurse for up to six months, if needed.  

What’s next in your strategic plan for nursing? 

The physician researchers focus on new cancer treatments, and new cancer treatments tend to cause symptoms in patients. Nursing fills that gap by looking at symptoms and symptom science. I’ve had conversations with our precision medicine folks about launching precision symptom science. Nurse researchers could begin to look at the genomic basis and the possible genetic mutations that might contribute to the reason one person experiences so much nausea and vomiting from a drug while another person does not. We are looking at funding opportunities for some of those kinds of research endeavors.