Nurse of the year

Sandra Kurtin, RN, MS, AOCN, ANP-C
Sandra Kurtin, RN, MS, AOCN, ANP-C

Arizona Cancer Center nurse practitioner Sandra Kurtin, RN, MS, AOCN, ANP-C, is one of those nurses others turn to when they have questions or need help.

Her passion for nursing was honored in September when she won the 2010 Nurse of the Year Award for mentoring from the March of Dimes Arizona Chapter.

Kurtin, who has been a nurse for 27 years, is known for her motto, “knowledge is only powerful if shared,” and her e-mails end with the phrase, “pass the passion.”

“To me, knowledge is not powerful if you hoard it,” she said. “You want to help as many patients as possible. You also want other people to have the passion to be involved in oncology and love what they do and find fulfillment in that. Sharing knowledge helps to cultivate that passion in other people.”

More than 300 nurses throughout the state were nominated in 14 award categories. Clinical Nurse Specialist Susan Bohnenkamp, MS, APRN, BC, CNS, CCN, who submitted Kurtin’s nomination, said the nurse practitioner is an invaluable resource to her colleagues.

“I nominated Sandy for the award because she has been a mentor to me in oncology for many years,” Bohnenkamp said. “Sandy has given guidance and support to so many regarding oncology. She is the best of the best.”

A clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona colleges of medicine and nursing, Kurtin focuses on patients with hematological and gastrointestinal malignancies and those participating in Phase I clinical trials. She serves as an educator for oncology fellows, residents, nurses and nursing students and she has mentored many in research, evidenced- based practice and publishing. She also teaches regionally, nationally and internationally at conferences. She serves on a number of international boards including the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation and the International Myeloma Foundation.

Kurtin worked at University Medical Center for 11 years and has been at the Arizona Cancer Center clinic for 16 years, but she has been passionate about oncology since she began nursing school.

“I took care of cancer patients when I first started going to school and I really liked it,” she said. “That was it. I’ve always been in oncology.”

Kurtin has been involved in some major developments in cancer treatment. She helped start the University Medical Center’s bone marrow transplant program and she worked on a clinical trial started at the Cancer Center that led to the approval of a new drug for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and multiple myeloma.

“We were the only site in the world that ran the initial trial that eventually brought the drug Revlimid to market,” she said. “We did the original Phase I/II trial here and it went to multi-site trials from there leading to approval of the drug in MDS. That was a wonderful experience.”

“It’s good to support research and try to find new treatments because most cancers are still not cured,” she said. “We need more drugs, more therapies. We run out of things to do sometimes and that’s very hard.”

Kurtin is honored to have received the Nurse of the Year award, particularly because a colleague nominated her, but winning awards isn’t why she works so hard.

“I get what I need from what I do,” she said. “It gives you such a different perspective on life. You’re humble and you realize there are a lot of things that people worry and talk about that really aren’t that important. We all get caught up in this and that. What you get here are just people being brave and finding humor and showing courage. The patients give so much back. It’s a remarkable gift. In reality, when you help people through this, you’re making a difference every day and that’s something that keeps me going. I am lucky to be here doing what I love.”