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Veterans Health Administration

Nurse Recognized For Work on Behalf of Cancer Survivors

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“I’ve worked with and been mentored by exceptional colleagues on behalf of the Veterans we serve. I’m honored to accept this award for our work.” — Ellen Ballard

VA Nursing
A Profession and a Passion

Since its establishment in 1930, VA has been the largest employer of nurses in the country. In 2010, more than 77,000 nursing personnel — including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, health technicians and nursing assistants — worked in VA’s national medical system. VA nursing service reflects all levels of academic preparation, from two year associate through doctorate degrees.

VA Nursing Service took its present shape in 1930 when three federal agencies responsible for Veterans programs consolidated into the new Veterans Administration. Approximately 2,500 registered nurses assigned to the U.S. Civil Service went to work for VA. Graduation from a state approved school of nursing was required for VA employment.

The personal contact and professional care provided by each level of the nursing team is pivotal to each Veteran’s health experience in VHA. VA Nursing Service is dedicated to promoting optimal health, patient safety, quality health care, and the highest professional standards, in order to ensure that our Veterans receive the best possible care and that our staff works in the best possible health care system.

Ellen Ballard, a registered nurse with the VA Loma Linda, Calif. Healthcare System, is the recipient of the prestigious Oncology Nursing Society’s 2011 Excellence in Survivor Advocacy Award for her work with cancer survivors.

Ballard is a clinical analyst at VA Loma Linda’s cancer center, where she works with patients in cancer clinical research trials, leads cancer improvement projects, assists with cancer program management, and teaches cancer survivors about the need for ongoing surveillance.

“She inspires trust, confidence, and admiration among the many individuals of diverse backgrounds who work with her, including myself.”

— Dr. David Haggstrom, general internist at the Indianapolis VA Medical Center

“I think my passion for cancer survivorship developed because of my father, a World War II Veteran,” Ballard said. “He had radiation therapy for prostate cancer when he was 57. He died recently, at age 85, after struggling for years with the long-term side effects of that treatment. I learned first-hand that people who survive cancer have special needs.

“As clinicians, we must think about the many patients cured through advances in research and health care,” she continued. “But we must also consider the long-term effects of the cancer, as well as the cancer treatment, as an ongoing part of care.”

Ballard said her employment with VA has provided her with “incredible opportunities” to enhance the health care VA provides to patients who have survived cancer. For example, she was instrumental in helping form VA’s Cancer Survivorship Advisory Group, whose job it is to keep national VA leadership informed about the needs and issues of cancer survivors.

The group has been busy. Among other things, they’ve developed a directory of cancer survivorship resources for Veterans and VA employees, established a VA email group of clinicians and researchers interested in cancer survivorship, and disseminated information to VA facilities concerning current approaches to cancer survivorship. The group also helps VA researchers by developing studies related to follow-up care, quality-of-life, and psychosocial oncology needs of Veterans who have survived cancer.

“Our advisory group recently developed survivorship resources for VA healthcare providers and a separate guide for Veterans,” Ballard explained. “For example, the cancer survivorship directory for patients includes a cancer specific list of websites, national advocacy and community organizations, and phone numbers of resources that may assist patients as they find a ‘new normal’ after treatment for cancer.

“We’re also working on developing a Survivorship Plan of Care,” Ballard added. “The plan will incorporate treatment summary and recommendations for surveillance, and it will address possible long-term side effects of treatments.”

Dr. David Haggstrom, a general internist at the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, worked with Ballard to create the Cancer Survivorship Advisory Group and get it chartered. He described her leadership style as transparent and inspirational.

“She inspires trust, confidence, and admiration among the many individuals of diverse backgrounds who work with her, including myself,” Haggstrom observed. “The topic and needs of cancer survivorship creates its own energy, but Ellen has harnessed and guided this energy, both in and outside the VA.”

“Ellen spearheads survisorship advocacy for Veterans and VA health care professionals alike,” noted Lori Hoffman Hogg, the cancer program director at the Albany VA Medical Center and chairperson of the VHA Oncology Nursing Field Advisory Committee. “She understands how important survivorship issues are to the Veteran’s quality and quantity of life. She has rallied a national network of clinicians and researchers interested in pursuing cancer survivorship in this special patient population.”

Ballard received her nursing diploma from Norwalk Hospital School of Nursing in Norwalk, Conn.; and her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Vermont College of Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. She began her VA nursing career in White River Junction, Vt., as a staff nurse in the operating room. While there, she developed a particular interest in surgical oncology, clinical research, and quality improvement. She has been at VA Loma Linda since 2005. Ballard’s award was presented April 28 during the Oncology Nursing Society’s Annual Congress in Boston.