Spotlight on Julie Shomo, oncology infusion nurse with the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion in Bluffton and Hilton Head
Julie Shomo, BSN, RN, OCN, CRNI
LCRP infusion nurse and resource coordinator
Nurse for more than 30 years; five years with St. Joseph’s/Candler
SJ/C: Why did you decide to become a nurse?
Julie: I grew up in a medical family. My father was a surgeon and my mother a nurse. My brother is an orthopedic surgeon; his wife is a nurse. I’ve always loved science, and I’ve always loved taking care of people. It was a natural fit for me.
SJ/C: Why did you decide to become a nurse with St. Joseph’s/Candler?
Julie: While living in Ohio, we visited Hilton Head for vacation for 25 years and contemplated moving south. I put in an application here for an infusion nurse position in what I thought was Savannah, which was close enough to Hilton Head for me. When Beverly (the LCRP infusion nurse manager) called me, she said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any positions in Savannah, but have you ever heard of Hilton Head?’ I never guessed it would be possible to work and live in my dream location. I interviewed on the weekend and immediately felt this is an amazing fit. Everything from the compassion and values to the focus on quality and certification was amazing. Coming from a bigger metropolitan city, I was so impressed to find these qualities in an area the size of Hilton Head. Everybody that works here cares about the patients and about each other. It’s a wonderful place to be.
SJ/C: What made you want to be an oncology nurse?
Julie: When moving down here, my original plan was not oncology. My main background was infusion therapy. I worked at a large hospital (in Ohio) as an IV specialist, placing PICCs and difficult IVs, caring for ports and educating staff. I brought some things to the table from an infusion perspective, but I also got to learn a new area of healthcare. Because I’m also a breast cancer survivor, I found that oncology was a perfect fit for me, and I’ve loved every bit of it. I feel like I have empathy for patients and am able to understand a bit more of what our patients are going through. Cancer gave me a new perspective on how to care for patients. When you’ve been through the diagnosis, you understand how scary it is to wait for the answers and not know what’s coming next. Even though you have been a nurse for a long time, it’s a totally different feeling on the other side of the chair. I think that’s helped me be a better nurse and see things from a different perspective.
SJ/C: What is the role of an infusion therapy nurse?
Julie: Our role as infusion nurses is to make sure the patient safely receives necessary treatments. When patients come in, we assess their symptoms to determine any side effects the chemotherapy may be causing and make sure they are healthy and safe enough to receive treatment. After reviewing labs and other pertinent tests, we may start an IV or access their port for IV drugs. After administering the drugs, we assess for any reactions or other problems. Education and emotional support are also important. When you get a cancer diagnosis, you are so overwhelmed by the emotional part of the diagnosis, that sometimes everything you’re being told is just flying around. Part of our jobs as oncology nurses is to reinforce that education. We want to make sure patients understand they have to let us know if a fever gets too high or if they have swelling anywhere, those kinds of things. It’s our job to be that person to see the whole picture.
SJ/C: It sounds like you get pretty close to your patients.
Julie: Absolutely. Some of them come once a week for years. We have some people that come in five to seven days every month. It is both very rewarding when we see the good things, but it can also be very challenging. You get attached to people. People often ask me how I do this job when it does involve people dying. My perspective is not about that. My perspective is to help every patient have a good and healthy life for whatever time they have. That’s my job – help them with side effects or dietary needs, whatever they need to have a better life. If I’ve given them that, that’s my goal.
SJ/C: Are there other gratifying and challenging moments of being an oncology infusion nurse?
Julie: Gratifying moments are obviously those when the patient graduates and are done with treatment. But just as gratifying is sitting and talking with a patient, and he or she comes to the realization it’s OK to feel a certain way, and that they are not alone in their battle. I think it’s important when patients feel seen and heard. Sometimes part of your job is to sit there as they cry and hold their hand. I’m a person of faith. It’s wonderful to work at a facility where if patients ask me to pray with them, I feel comfortable doing that. I’ve worked in jobs where that’s not OK. To have a faith-based system like this frees me to do that. Obviously, we’re not pushing our faith, but if someone is asking for that, I’m happy to be able to support them in that way.
SJ/C: What does it mean to you to be a Magnet nurse?
Julie: To me it means this hospital values nurses and values what nurses bring to the table. I was fortunate enough to be asked to go to the Magnet Conference this year. It’s amazing to be on a team where our opinions are valued and our ideas are actually being put into practice; to have that kind of impact, to have input and give ideas to make the quality better and the experience for nurses better is very valuable.
SJ/C: What advice would you offer to new nurses or those considering a career in nursing?
Julie: I would say you have to have a special desire to be a nurse. You are either going to love it or it’s not going to be a fit for you. If you do have that desire to be a nurse, find your passion and don’t be afraid to change jobs within a system to find a place that really fits you. I started out on a general surgical floor. I worked in endoscopy. I worked in ICU for a long time. When I landed in IV therapy, I knew that was my passion place. Not everybody is like that. Some people will start in oncology and be in oncology for 30 years. I would just say don’t be afraid to experiment. I’m not recommending job hopping from system to system. One of the things I love about St. Joseph’s/Candler is that if you want to try a different role or a different area that is totally encouraged. St. Joseph’s/Candler really lets you be the best that you can be and find the place that really gives you the sense of passion and satisfaction. If you find the place you love, then work is not really work.
Family: Husband with two sons and two daughters-in-law
Hobbies/Interest: Reading and gardening