Stephanie Shaffer believes there’s a reason she survived her cancer journey that started in late 2005. But it didn’t become clear until years later, when she was asked by a Via Christi administrator to become a voice for other patients.
In late 2012, Keisha Humphries — an oncology nurse who helped treat Stephanie in clinical trials and is now director of Via Christi Cancer Institute in Wichita — asked Stephanie to join a new initiative that would bring together cancer survivors and caregivers, to help create an ideal care experience for patients and their families during this difficult time.
“You talk about stepping outside the box,” says Stephanie about becoming a charter member of the institute’s Oncology Patient and Family Advisory Council, which meets monthly. “Since I’ve taken those steps, it’s been the most rewarding and gratifying experience.”
As she visits with cancer patients, she responds to their stories with hope and compassion — and with thoughts of how she and other council members can impact their cancer journey.
“It’s like everything in life,” says Ron Ford, a fellow council member and cancer survivor. “We’ve got to give back and see if there’s anything we can do for current and future patients.”
In its short term, the Via Christi Oncology Patient and Family Advisory Council has already helped bring about several services, including:
- Canine therapy visits from certified dogs and their handlers
- A cancer wellness program that encourages daily activity and coaching
- A concierge service led by volunteers who help caregivers and patients with various tasks
- A comprehensive, customized guidebook for patients and caregivers
With more focus on patient-centered care and having positive outcomes, hospitals across the nation are looking at how patients can provide feedback and address concerns on a consistent basis.
Patient advisory councils that meet regularly have many benefits, according to the nonprofit Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, including ensuring that services really meet a patient’s needs and priorities, offering creative solutions for staff and even networking opportunities between a hospital program and community groups.