UNC Lineberger nurse practitioner Mary Dunn’s mission is advocacy for patients and for the nursing profession. Her advocacy and service work are being highlighted by the Oncology Nursing Society in their quarterly professional journal, ONS Connect.
Mary says, “Oncology nurses have an important role in the clinic and out in the community. For our patients, we can be their voice, to advocate for them and show our support for them. We also can advocate for nursing as a profession. Lay people, who have no idea what we do, see us out in the community and have a chance to interact with us and ask us questions about what we do and learn what our real roles are in health care.”
Mary has served/serves on the Board of the local chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society where she organizes their chapter community service events. “We try to do a different walk each year to reach out to all the different cancers. We’ve participated in the Gail Parkins Walk for Ovarian Cancer, the Lung Cancer Initiative’s Walk, the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network’s walk and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night event. We also did a food drive this year with the Triangle Hospice and Palliative Nursing Association.”
She describes her current project as “an idea that just came to me, and I decided to call it Kaps for Kids. As a group we don’t often work with the pediatric oncology community because it’s so small, so the majority of our members are adult oncology practitioners. I suggested that we organize a hat drive for the pediatric community.”
She contacted groups and individuals, asking them for hats, working through word of mouth and email blasts. She received and distributed approximately 1,000 hats. “I gave half the hats to Duke and half to UNC. Each hospital was asked to distribute half to pediatric inpatients and half to outpatients.”
Last year, she collected nearly 1,400 hats and is aiming for 2000 this year. “I have received hats from all over the state. People mail them to me. We get more hand-crocheted or knitted caps than store-bought, but all are appreciated. You can feel the love and care that has gone into these hats.”
Mary uses her vacation during the Christmas holidays to sort the hats and delivers them after Christmas. “Delivering the hats is a ton of fun and a lot of work. It takes me hours, but it brings me so much joy. I love doing it. I know it brings joy to the kids.”
Mary knew from an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. “My mom was a nurse. I’ve always wanted to do something to give back. Growing up, I saw that she loved what she did. She is such a compassionate and giving woman. Nursing seemed like the perfect fit for me. I volunteered when I was younger at a nursing home. I really loved doing that and loved working with people. I thought, ‘This is the career path for me.’”
She attended the nursing school at the University of Virginia. “When I first started nursing school, I thought I wanted to be a pediatric nurse. Then I got an oncology rotation. It was an amazing rotation because my instructor had been an oncology nurse for 20-25 years, and she was brilliant and giving, just an amazing woman and nurse leader. The patient population was different from any other group I had worked with. I got to know some of the patients and their family members and really connected with them and felt like this was the path for me.”
After graduation, she took a nursing job at Duke in the leukemia and lymphoma ward for close to six years, returning to school to earn her degree as a nurse practitioner. She came to UNC in March of 2010 with the Urologic Oncology Program.
She explains, “What's special to me about being a nurse at UNC is the real sense of teamwork that I feel amongst my colleagues. I am lucky to work with a team of top- notch nursing and physician colleagues who understand the value in what I do as an NP and encourage me to practice autonomously and to the fullest extent of my education and training. We have a truly multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to providing patient care.”
Mary is actively working for the future of nursing. “One thing about oncology nursing that lay people should know is how diverse our role in patient care really is. We are at the bedside managing the care of inpatients, in outpatient clinics, infusion clinics, navigators, educators, researchers, administrators- the list goes on! What one may see in the popular media is certainly not an accurate portrayal of the reality of the role of nursing in healthcare.
“We need more young people to pursue careers in nursing. Nurses are out there advocating for our patients and advocating for our profession. Because we’re the ones on the front lines, the ones from whom people are getting their information, hopefully we can inspire more young people to go into nursing.”
Mary was recently recognized by the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network for making a difference in the lives of people with bladder cancer. Read the interview here.