Jennifer McConnell is all about the patients, and if that means putting on a song and dance (literally) to make them feel better, then she'll be the first to learn the choreography.
Jennifer is a nurse in the Thoracic Medical Oncology Center at The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, and it's her goal to make sure everyone around her stays optimistic and grateful for the support they receive from each other.
"Patients are always asking for 'the nurse whose smile makes them feel better.' That's Jennifer," explains Diane Vollrath, Jennifer's coworker at The James.
We asked Jennifer about herself, her work, her tips for maintaining a positive attitude, and how to inspire others to do the same.
Tell us a little bit about you.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Education, a Master of Fine Arts in Acting, an Associate's degree in Nursing from The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Kettering College. I worked at The Christ Hospital in critical care step-down prior to joining The James in September 2012. I transitioned from acting and teaching to nursing because I wanted to do even more to help people and have always had a passion for service, health and science.
What does your job as a clinic nurse entail?
I primarily work with patients in our thoracic medical oncology clinic. My job includes lots of things (depending on patient, family, or clinic needs), but a typical day may encompass assessment, assistance with symptom management, administering medications, drawing blood, coordinating acute follow-up (blood transfusions, urgent scans, transitions of care, etc.), assistance with targeted medicine procurement, FMLA/disability, lots of education for patients and families, and anything else that might come up.
Why is it important for yourself, your coworkers, and your patients to stay positive?
Staying positive is important because we want to foster hope and joy in a setting that is often defined by dire statistics. In our world, positivity may mean embracing the moment and the blessing of the beautiful patients and families we get to care for. Additionally, the energy that we bring with us into this space every day really affects everyone, especially the patients and families. By bringing positivity into our space and our lives, we create room for kindness and hope to thrive.
How do you inspire yourself and others to stay positive? How do you find out what will inspire different people in different situations to remain optimistic?
I have a fantastic team that I get to work with every day. We have lovely people (nurses, physicians, patient care associates, oncology schedulers, clinical research coordinators, and our nurse leaders) that constitute our thoracic oncology department. Having the opportunity to work with all of them truly generates positivity. Helping patients and families maintain hope is a very individualized thing. Connecting with patients and families (and staff!) is my favorite part of my job. I love getting to know people and then finding those little areas of connection that allow people to feel known and at home. Feeling valued and cared for seems to help create individual connections that are really valuable.
Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the survivorship quilts program?
We are so blessed to get beautiful quilts made for our patients by the Stitching Sisters. Our physicians and nurse practitioners select these specifically for our patients at significant moments, like the start of treatment, the completion of the current regimen of treatment, or another momentous occasion. Often, the nurses get the privilege of giving these quilts to patients right before they leave the clinic for the day. On these happy occasions, I want to help make a little event for the patient and family, so I ask for their favorite song or type of music. Once I get that cued up, I will take any willing dancers, and we do a little dance to the music with the quilt as a silly and fun presentation. The reactions vary from patient to patient, but usually this is a really nice moment. My two favorite reactions to date: (1) a patient and family with joyful tears after a rousing rendition of "Beat It," and (2) a patient saying to me, "You don't mind making a fool of yourself, do you?"
How did you develop these skills in the first place? Was there a specific person or event in your life that had an influence?
I have been blessed with so many influential people in my life. As I mentioned before, I work with an awesome team. My twin sister and older sisters (who are also twins) are a huge part of my life and demonstrate the best of unconditional love and selflessness. The support and love of my parents has been immeasurable. And I think, in general, witnessing moments of kindness is a constant source of renewal.
Some of the medical center's values are inclusiveness, determination, empathy, sincerity, ownership and innovation. Does one of these values ring true to you or your department? If so, which one and how is it demonstrated?
While I think that all of these definitely apply in my department, I think that the force of empathy runs strong with us. The support and love I see shared between colleagues, patients, and families is truly inspiring and affirming.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your job, coworkers, or working at Ohio State?
I would just like to say how grateful I am to be able to work with my people — colleagues, patients, and families. I am truly blessed.
Thank you, Jennifer, for Improving People's Lives!