Nurse Practitioner Provides Specialized Care and Hope
, by Brittany Cordeiro, NCI-CONNECT Program Manager
Nurse Practitioner Christine Siegel cares for people with brain and spine tumors expertly and affectionately. Learn how she manages their clinical care and symptoms while providing hope.
When people with a rare brain and spine tumor visit the NCI-CONNECT Clinic at NIH, the first healthcare provider they meet is often Nurse Practitioner Christine Siegel. She evaluates patients, helps develop a treatment plan, and manages their care. More so, she provides advice and hope.
“People are understandably nervous. NIH is not a normal hospital, although it feels and functions like one. I sit with patients for as long as they need and address all their questions or concerns,” Siegel says. She joined NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, Neuro-Oncology Branch in 2015.
Seigel was encouraged to be a nurse by her mother who is a social worker in Baltimore. Siegel received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from John Hopkins University in 2006. Then, she worked at the hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. She joined NIH as an oncology nurse in 2008.
“I love caring for people with brain and spine cancers. They’re a special population and I wanted to be more involved in managing their care and understanding their medical background,” Siegel says. So, while working as a bedside nurse at NIH, she received her Master of Science in Nursing from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In 2013, she left NIH and joined The George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner. She returned to NIH in 2015.
Seigel provides clinical care to patients with rare brain and spine tumors as part of NCI-CONNECT. She evaluates patients and works with NCI-CONNECT neuro-oncologist Marta Penas-Prado, M.D., to inform patients about their diagnosis and treatment plan, and how to manage their symptoms.
Valuing Clinical Care
Siegel greets patients and caregivers in the clinic affectionately. One of the first things she offers them is her contact information so they know they can ask questions outside of their clinical visit. “It helps put patients at ease and lets them know we are truly here to help,” Siegel says.
Siegel first assesses and evaluates patients by taking their medical history and performing a physical exam. Then, she reviews the information and their imaging and pathology data with the neuro-oncologist to develop a comprehensive treatment plan and next steps.
Siegel also follows-up on any other tests or lab work the patient may need and consults with an outside doctor if the patient has one or needs a doctor closer to home. “We often recommend treatment plans close to home for the best interest of the patient. We work closely with that treating doctor to manage the care of the patient,” Seigel says. She ensures the patient and caregiver inform her about new symptoms, medications, or issues they experience during and after treatment.
Our goal when we develop a treatment plan is to maximize the patient’s quality of life.
She has a special interest in understanding symptoms patients have and how to better manage them in long-term survivorship.
Researching and Managing Symptoms
Patients often define their quality of life by how they feel and function. It is common for people with brain tumors to have headaches, seizures, vision, hearing, and speech problems, changes in personality or mood, and loss of balance and sleep. People with spine tumors often have back pain, or pain that spreads to their arms and legs, trouble walking, and weakness in their arms and legs.
“We see commonalities in rare tumor populations, but it also can vary widely by patient,” Siegel says. “It’s important for research to be able to understand what individuals experience because treatment effectiveness is measured on quality of life.”
Siegel uses questionnaires as part of the Natural History Study to ask patients questions related to their physical health and functioning, and general well-being. Patients can also answer these questions at home in NCI-CONNECT’s online Outcomes and Risk Study. “Symptoms are just as important as imaging and lab work to tell us how well a patient is doing,” Seigel says. Then, she devises a plan to help patients manage their symptoms.
When managing symptoms, Siegel is a phone call away. Patients or their treating doctor can alert her to changes or issues and Siegel can make recommendations to help or, working with Dr. Penas-Prado, adjust the treatment plan. “Patients have standards for how they want to feel and function each day and I want that to be the best possible,” Siegel says.
Advice to Patients Visiting NIH
Siegel knows that patients are often given a blunt diagnosis. They’re uncertain and anxious. Then, they come to NIH, the nation’s leading research facility, and they’re scared. “I remind people that we provide expert advice because we study and treat rare brain and spine tumors all day, every day,” Seigel says. “We can also connect them with other people that are going through the same experience.”
Siegel talks with patients and caregivers extensively during their clinical visit. She tells them what they can expect as they navigate their appointments, where to find additional resources and support, and why they shouldn’t feel alone.
“Caring for rare brain and spine tumor patients is all we do. And our goal is to ensure they have the best quality of life possible,” Seigel says. “I hope that provides them the hope and optimism they need during their journey.”