Photo by Dean Forbes
More than 35 years into her Hutchinson Center career, Clinical Research Division nurse Jane Jocom is still caring for patients — though not in the same way she did when she began.
Jocom, who coordinates clinical trials of treatments for stem-cell transplant patients within the Long-Term Follow-Up (LTFU) Program, started out in the 1970s as an intensive-care unit nurse in the transplant ward — a position she held for about 10 years.
When the Center began to conduct a greater number of clinical trials, the need for a research nurse arose, and Jocom was recruited.
"I had to learn that role," Jocom said. "In research, it's a different kind of feeling that you have. It's not like being at bedside, although I still have a relationship with my patients."
Since 1986, she has worked coordinating and implementing research trials — determining patients' eligibility, monitoring protocol compliance and toxicities, making sure trials conform to regulations and collecting data from the trials to use for assessing new treatments.
One of the things Jocom likes about the duties she has had over the course of her career is the variety. "My work is so different and yet so tied together," she said. "It's still patient care."
Looking out for patients' interests
Although Jocom no longer provides bedside care, she plays key roles setting up patients with appropriate trials, ensuring their safety during trials, answering questions, helping them find funding when necessary, and generally supporting studies aimed at better treatments for patients.
"Jane really takes responsibilities very seriously and does her best with every individual patient to make sure that what they need is taken care of," said Peggy Adams Myers, manager of LTFU research, who supervises Jocom.
Part of Jocom's job is to meet with all transplant patients before they go home to explain follow-up questionnaires she later reviews.
Her past nursing experience helps her identify and call for adjustments if a patient experiences adverse effects to a treatment — something a person merely inputting data would not be able to do, said Dr. Mary Flowers, medical director of the clinical LTFU program.
"She plays a key role between clinical research and clinical care because she understands the importance of both sides," Flowers said.
Judy Campbell, a LTFU nurse in clinical care who has worked with Jocom for most of the 35 years they've both been at the Center, recognizes the value of a skilled researcher who still knows her nursing.
"You need someone who is compassionate and dedicated and works well with the patients," said Campbell, who collaborates with Jocom on educating outgoing patients. "When Jane is working one-on-one with patients, she shines."
Jocom moved into research after she saw the potential to help patients during her first trial. Working with Dr. Keith Sullivan, Jocom coordinated a pioneering trial showing that intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) reduces infection in transplant patients.
"I thought IVIG would be a good benefit to bone-marrow transplant patients because infection is a major problem," Jocom said. For this reason, helping patients boost their immune systems with products like IVIG is of great value.
When the Federal Drug Administration audited Jocom's first study on IVIG, colleagues warned her that the process could be worse than being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. In the end, though, the study came through intact — in part due to Jocom's careful work. "I got a big T-shirt from the drug company that supported the trial saying 'I survived the FDA audit,'" Jocom said. "I still have that T-shirt."
In the early 1990s, Jocom moved into managing increasingly complex, multicenter trials. In addition to the immunoglobulin studies, Jocom has continued to work with treatments for chronic graft-vs.-host disease, which affects more than half of the patients who receive a transplant from donors.
Throughout the studies, Jocom is responsible for making sure trials closely follow protocols. High praise is always given to the way Jocom keeps the regulatory information organized and complete, said Dr. Paul Carpenter, principal investigator of several of Jocom's ongoing trials. Keeping careful records is something she is known for — and learned to do from the start.
Co-workers said it is Jocom's depth of experience and meticulousness that enables her to handle her trials efficiently and effectively.
"Jane has the ability and insight to understand the system and be aware of the adjustments she needs to make," said Aurora Brandvold, a clinical research nurse who works with Jocom.
"I don't have to check in that her clinical trials are going well," Adams Myers said. "The studies that Jane is in charge of are always perfect."
For her part, Jocom admits a thrill in making sure the trials present reliable, accurate data. "For me, to be able to get all the data to follow protocol is gratifying," she said.
Long-term links with patients
Jocom said that highlights of her long Center career include the people she works with and the sense of purpose she derives from her work.
"Because of her time at the Center, the understanding of the mission of the Center is dear to Jane, and it shows through her dedication, commitment and professionalism in the work she carries out," Flowers said.
Jocom also said helping patients is central to her job satisfaction.
Jocom enjoys the opportunities she has for developing long-term relationships with patients due to the nature of her follow-up work. She feels special satisfaction when patients acknowledge these long-term links.
"I just talked to my patient today who is a year out from a transplant and is coming back to the Center," Jocom said. "She asked, 'Will I see you?' and I said, 'Definitely. I will make it a point to see you.'"