Department Spotlight: Radiation Oncology

By: Alana Ridge

March 14, 2024

The Radiation Oncology team at Renown pose for a group photo.

Up to half of all men and one-third of all women will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, according to the Nevada Cancer Coalition. Chances are, you or someone you care about has been affected by cancer and has witnessed the ultimate fight for life. More than likely, your loved one’s cancer journey involved radiation therapy – and in fact, more than half of cancer diagnoses are treated in whole or in part with radiation. At first glance, this treatment plan can sound scary to any person. With a cancer care journey, it takes a village, and at Renown Health, we have top-notch leaders of the village roads that lead to radiation. 

Meet our Radiation Oncology team at the William N. Pennington Cancer Institute. From intake to inpatient, this department of passionate physicians, radiation therapists, registered nurses, medical assistants, intake coordinators, schedulers and more are here to help every patient dealing with the intimidating diagnosis of cancer. Any patient that needs radiation as a part of their treatment is in the best of hands with this team, who will stop at nothing to ensure each patient under their care knows that they have a village Fighting the Good Fight right alongside them. 

Teamwork in Tackling Tumors

One of the most common forms of cancer treatment, radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to minimize cancerous cells. But with Renown’s Radiation Oncology department, the impressive cancer care doesn’t stop there – this team leverages advanced technology right at their fingertips. In fact, our cancer institute has the most state-of-the-art radiation therapy system of its kind – the ultra-precise Varian TrueBeam radiation therapy system – and is the very first program holding American College of Radiology accreditation in the entire region. 

Given the advanced nature of their jobs and the high standard of care their patients expect them to uphold, it’s no question that the days-in-the-life of each team member is complex and can continually change every day. 

“There are many moving parts in radiation oncology on any given day,” said Sandra Bailey, Manager of Radiation Oncology Services. “The radiation oncologists consult newly diagnosed patients, follow up with previously treated patients and oversee daily treatments for patients actively receiving treatments. Nurses and medical assistants move around the clinic to support the physicians with patients and provide education and other supportive care.” 

The physics and dosimetry teams work diligently alongside the physicians to design the most beneficial treatment plan for each patient. Once a patient begins their treatments, the radiation therapists administer the daily treatments with the utmost precision. Intake coordinators, schedulers and patient access representatives make surethe patients have their insurance authorization and are processed through the system appropriately. Like any well-oiled machine, each part is necessary for the other to function at peak performance to ensure our patients receive the quality care they deserve and expect.

Like many other clinical departments at Renown, teamwork coupled with education is crucial to best serve radiation therapy patients. Our nurses on this team are experts at exactly that, serving as a reminder of the transformative power of care in the face of a daunting disease. 

“Radiation oncology is a unique world,” said Kristen Reed, Registered Nurse. “We have many different team members that play a role in how we function as a department. We all work together in some aspect to provide care for our patients. As a nurse, I provide patient education to all my patients before starting treatment to go over potential side effects and expectations on their treatment. Daily, we see new patients and follow-ups, plan simulations to start patients for radiation treatments and provide radiation treatments, among many other daily tasks.” 

The unique role of our radiation therapists, the team members who are on the frontlines of giving radiation treatments, helps this department stand out from the rest with their tireless dedication to fighting against cancer with compassion and expertise. Not only are they armed with technology, but they are also armed with hands that deliver healing rays of radiation. 

“As a radiation therapist, our daily tasks can vary pretty widely,” said Casey Johnson, Radiation Therapist. “We rotate between three radiation treatment machines called linear accelerators – one of which we use for stereotactic radiosurgery, a minimally invasive form of surgical intervention. We also staff the CT simulation room where we construct all the patients' treatment devices and perform their ‘mapping’ scan. We then coordinate with the dosimetrists and physicians to determine the specifics of the patients’ course of treatment. The most important parts of our job are patient care and education. Even though our job is very technical and requires tremendous attention to detail, the critical part is remembering that our average workday could be a monumental day for a new patient.” 

“Our day-in-the-life in Radiation Oncology is centered around patient care,” added Haley Longfield, Radiation Therapist. “Although we do not spend a ton of time with our patients, we see them every day. We are able to build a wonderful rapport with our patients that is top-notch. We set up the room with their treatment devices, get them set up appropriately and administer their radiation treatment. On average, our patients are here for about 15 minutes.” 

The bottom line: our Radiation Oncology team’s unified commitment to both excellence and innovation promises a brighter future for those battling cancer. No one is ever alone in their fight, and this team makes sure of that, no matter what. 

Radiating Excellence in Cancer Care

The Pennington Cancer Institute boasts a stellar reputation in our community for offering best-in-class, evidence-based care and cutting-edge research, improving outcomes for patients battling cancer. This fact is what inspired many Radiation Oncology team members to take their talents to this department in the first place.  

“I chose to work at the Cancer Institute because I believe we offer the best patient care experience, along with the most advanced radiation treatments in the area,” said Casey Johnson. 

"I am a fifth generation Reno resident, and I am part of this community through and through,” added Haley Longfield. “I always knew that I wanted to work here.”

The success of our cancer institute starts with our people – and many members of the Radiation Oncology team witnessed this firsthand upon their arrival in this department.

“I was initially inspired to move across the country to work in the Cancer Institute by the vision of the senior leaders and the future growth plans for the entire institute; once I arrived, I quickly realized what a great team I am now leading,” said Sandra Bailey. “The compassion and care the Radiation Oncology team provides our patients is second to none. Medical errors are rare in our department, and this can be attributed to not only the processes in place to prevent them, but everyone working together to deliver radiation treatments safely. Each day I witness a patient relationship being nurtured and developed. I am truly honored to be part of this team.” 

Inspired by Renown's integral role in the northern Nevada community, several team members were drawn to this department because of the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on patients' lives in a quiet healing environment. 

“As a student nurse, I had clinical and practicum on the cancer nursing unit here at Renown; I noticed the quiet, healing environment and a patient population enduring some of life’s most challenging hurdles,” said Rachel Bales, Registered Nurse. “It is in these moments that you can really make a difference as a nurse. After pursuing critical care as a new grad and working in Interventional Radiology with cancer patients, I knew that I had to find my way back to oncology. I applied to Radiation Oncology, and I am working towards my third year in this department. I have always known that I enjoy helping others, and the fulfillment that comes from working with this patient population is unmatched.” 

“Renown is a huge part of the community in northern Nevada, and I knew while I was in nursing school that I wanted to have a career here,” added Kristen Reed. “I ended up joining the Cancer Institute about two years ago. My patients are a huge part of why I stay. We really get to know these patients and their families well, especially because they come in from Monday through Friday for up to six weeks for treatments. Building connections and being able to support these patients during a difficult time in their life makes my job fulfilling.” 

From the initial consultation to the administration of therapy, the staff's commitment to personalized care remains strong. Patients and their families develop profound connections with these team members as they navigate through the challenges of treatment. 

“We have knowledgeable and caring staff that help guide our patients through treatment,” said Kristen Reed. “This starts on the day of their consultation and continues even after completion of treatment. The patients and families get to know the staff through their treatment, and having a familiar face can be reassuring to them. We also take time every week to see how they are doing physically and mentally while undergoing treatment and we give them a chance to check in with their doctor. Taking this time helps reassure patients and allows them to ask questions, and in turn, reduce some anxiety and worry.” 

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Unwavering Patient Support

Radiation therapy isn’t easy – both emotionally and physically – for any patient. However, the Radiation Oncology team has a lot of pride for their ability to provide unwavering support every step of the way. 

“Radiation is by far one of the hardest things I have done but most definitely the most rewarding,” said Jackie Wagner, Certified Medical Assistant. “I witness my patients leaning on me for support as they go through one of the hardest treatments, giving them the strength, courage and hope during one of the hardest times in their life. Then when they come back for follow up, I love watching them blossom back into their full of life self and completing challenges from their bucket list.” 

"We are most proud of the level of service that we provide to our patients,” added Haley Longfield. “We are constantly keeping their well-being at the top of our priority list.” 

As custodians of expertise and guardians of innovation, our Radiation Oncology department members are indispensable assets within Renown’s Cancer Care team, shaping the standards of care and a culture of excellence. 

“Our senior therapists are the best in the business,” said Haley Longfield. “They are not only excellent teachers to students that come through this department, but they also constantly teach everyone here. You are never done learning. The technology in this field is always changing. I am thankful for every therapist that I work with, but there are a few key people that this department cannot run without.” 

Meaningful Moments

After learning about this team, you may be thinking, “wow, they sure are passionate!” But it’s more than that – this team takes their responsibility to ensure their patients have a meaningful experience seriously so they can walk away from their treatments with a renewed sense of hope. 

“Month after month, our team only receives positive patient comments on the randomized survey they receive,” said Rachel Bales. “I believe that our actions and the care we provide helps patients to navigate their diagnosis. We set the tone and precedence for what to expect and how to manage side effects of their treatment. I believe that the time spent, and the education provided alleviates some fears of the unknown. We are here every step of the way to guide them as questions and side effects arise.” 

“One thing about me is that I am very passionate about my patients,” added Jackie Wagner. “I love what I do. I try to make everyone feel like they are an individual person and not a number. I go above and beyond. I am always trying to find how we as a team can make Radiation Oncology a better place and see what process we can add to benefit exceptional patient care. I show respect for everyone.” 

The relationships our Radiation Oncology team members develop with their patients goes beyond the hospital walls. This department is committed to ensuring their patients know they can always rely on them and empowering patients to stay strong even after they walk out the front doors of the cancer institute. 

“I think our entire team works hard to form meaningful relationships with our patients,” said Casey Johnson. “I find the ways we reduce their anxieties really depend on the patient. Some patients appreciate a more lighthearted approach, and others like to have more serious discussions surrounding their treatment – ‘what comes next’ and those types of questions. I tailor my approach to the patient and what they need on any given day.” 

“I think the key to reducing a patient’s anxieties or fears is meeting the patients wherever they are in their cancer journey,” added Sandra Bailey. “Whether the patient is scared, anxious, angry, overwhelmed or tired, the radiation team adjusts their approach accordingly to comfort or just offers a listening ear. The radiation therapy team provides compassionate care every day.” 

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: cancer is frightening. Everyone knows that. But with the devoted Radiation Oncology team on their side at every juncture, each patient’s battle against cancer can become more manageable, and in turn, more hopeful. 

“We love it when patients take an active role in their care,” said Haley Longfield. “We will talk through them throughout their treatment as well. We take our time and reassure them every step of the way.” 

“These patients depend on you to set the tone for their cancer treatments and care,” added Rachel Bales. “Cancer and the treatments involved are very scary. It is up to us to help these patients and their families navigate some of the most turbulent times.” 

Ready to radiate a culture of kindness and excellence in cancer care? The Radiation Oncology department is actively hiring caregivers like you! According to this team, the abilities to work as a team, provide care efficiently and accurately and communicate effectively are vital to being a great radiation therapy employee. 

“A good coworker is team centered and willing to help,” said Kristen Reed. “This requires that we work together to provide the best care for our patients. We have teams within our department that function independently, but this does require that we are able to communicate with each other and work together when needed.” 

“Being successful in radiation oncology is all about teamwork,” added Sandra Bailey. “Each step of the treatment process is dependent on others performing their job efficiently and accurately.” 

At the end of the day, one fact always remains the same throughout this entire team: they love their job, they love their patients, they love their team members, and of course, they love Renown and the Pennington Cancer Institute. And that fact isn’t set to change anytime soon. 

“I love working here. We have the best therapist, the best dosimetrists and the best doctors. I wouldn't want to work anywhere else,” closes Haley Longfield.
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