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Presidential appointee

By Martha McKenzie

suzanne staebler   deborah watkins   carolyn clevenger   maryjane lewitt   diane padden
 From national to local    Presidential appointee    Leading by example    Removing barriers for patients    Representing NPs at the table

deborah bruner

President Obama appointed Deborah Watkins Bruner to the National Cancer Advisory Board. She is the only nurse to serve on the board.  Photography by Jack Kearse

When Woodruff Professor Deborah Watkins Bruner PhD RN FAAN was selected by President Obama to join the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), she forged new ground. Bruner is the only nurse to serve on the board that advises the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the President on strategic directions and funding priorities for cancer research.

Bruner wasted no time. At her first NCAB meeting, she learned of—in her words—"a paradigm-shifting trial." The NCI Match Trial, instead of treating patients based on their type of cancer, will treat patients based on the molecular profile of their tumor. As game changing as the Match trial could prove to be, Bruner quickly realized that the patient was being lost in the shuffle. 

"They call this trial patient-centered because they are profiling the tumor, but that is tumor-centric, not patient-centric," she says. "As a nurse, my job is to say, 'What are we doing for the human being wrapped around that tumor?' This ground-breaking study had no plans to actually ask the patient how the drugs make them feel."

Such an omission could be critical. If side effects are too unpleasant, patients might not be willing to adhere to treatment. As a result of Bruner's input, the NCI is investigating the addition of patients' assessment of side effects in the Match study. 

"I am passionate about the patient voice," says Bruner. "I feel that if we ask people to volunteer and take the risk of being in a clinical trial, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to hear from them about their experience, their symptoms, and their quality of life rather than focus exclusively on their tumor control. I bring that advocacy to include the patient voice to all clinical trials."

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