I have been thinking a lot about what makes the place a person receives cancer care a program, a center, a home. We throw around phrases like “oncology medical home” and “cancer program” or “cancer center,” but what does it all mean? These phrases have professional definitions developed by key organizations. For example, Oncology Medical Home has been defined by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and Community Oncology Alliance,1 breast centers are accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, which is an extension of the American College of Surgeons,2 and the National Cancer Act of 1971 established the National Cancer Institute Cancer Centers Program, which recognizes cancer centers that meet rigorous criteria.3 However, these words are often used the same way the food industry uses terms like “all-natural” or “healthy” — with little thought or simply to sell a product.
For me, comprehensive cancer care is just that: comprehensive. It involves many parts — quality, technology, research, screening, patient engagement, clinical expertise, navigation, algorithms, leadership, and varied support services. But what my experience as a physician providing care within a cancer center and what I hear from patients time and time again is that comprehensive translates to the little things that make people feel cared for.
I think about the time I saw a senior executive carry someone’s tray in the cafeteria or scoop to pick up a piece of trash in the hallway when they didn’t know anyone was watching. I think about how touched a patient was that a radiology technologist helped them zip a difficult dress, or that a nurse grabbed them a warm blanket, or that the registration desk lent them an umbrella. I’ve observed that services like art therapy, massage therapy, and pet therapy are some of the most popular among our patients. I am blown away by the kindness of my colleagues who take the time to show me a trick on the computer that makes my work easier or walk me to a part of the hospital I have not previously visited. Like most workplaces, we rally together when a time of crisis strikes one of our own by forming meal trains or collecting donations. I hear stories of staff taking extra time to listen or connect over shared experiences and I am bolstered by the humanity of my colleagues. Each of these is a simple act of giving — of one’s self, one’s time, one’s kindness.
Increasingly, we see hospitals collecting patient satisfaction data. These surveys ask patients questions about how they are treated. Did they feel listened to? Was the hospital staff courteous and respectful? Were their questions carefully answered? These types of questions illustrate that quality care doesn’t just include the best technology or the adherence to care guidelines, but the creation of an environment that both feels good and delivers the highest quality results.
As we move into November and Thanksgiving, and the season of gratitude, I urge you to think about what made your cancer center feel like a home. Was it the expertise of a nurse? The remarkable leadership of a clinical research team? The compassion of the security guard at the front door, who always helped your parent out of the car? Consider writing a thank you note or making a charitable donation in honor of that special person. Expressing your gratitude will illustrate to all the people you interact with you recognize all the work and care that goes into making a cancer center a cancer home.
- Woofter K, Kennedy EB, Adelson K, Bowman R, Brodie R, Dickson N, Gerber R, Fields KK, Murtaugh C, Polite B, Paschall M, Skelton M, Zoet D, Cox JV. Oncology Medical Home: ASCO and COA Standards. JCO Oncol Pract. 2021 Aug;17(8):475-492. DOI: 10.1200/OP.21.00167. Epub 2021 Jul 13. PMID: 34255551.
- American College of Surgeons. “National Accreditation Program For Breast Centers.” accessed online October 26, 2021, at https://www.facs.org/quality-programs/napbc
- National Cancer Intitute. “NCI Designated Cancer Center” Last updated June 24, 2019. Accessed online October 26, 2021, at https://www.cancer.gov/research/infrastructure/cancer-centers