A Look at a Leader, Meredith McMahan, RN
McMahan talks about her own experience with cancer, and how that enabled her to relate to her own patients battling cancer.
Meredith McMahan always thought she wanted to work in healthcare, but she took a roundabout way to get there. As an undergraduate at DePauw University, she went through several majors before graduating in 2000 with a degree in English literature. She then went into a career in public relations that brought her first to New York and then to Chicago.
McMahan enjoyed her job, but it wasn’t until she had a pharmaceutical client that her passion for healthcare was reignited. “We were promoting a long-lasting insulin product, and I had the opportunity to work with certified diabetes educators who were all nurses,” says McMahan. “I loved the relationships these nurses had with their patients and decided I wanted to go to nursing school.”
So McMahan moved back to Indiana and earned her BS in nursing from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis while working for her family’s business. It wasn’t easy but McMahan realized nursing was her passion. “During my senior year of nursing school, I did a clinical rotation in the hematology/oncology clinic, and that’s when I decided what I wanted to do,” says McMahan.
Upon graduation in 2007, McMahan worked as a beside nurse in the pediatric/hematology oncology inpatient unit at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, where she cared for cancer patients ranging in age from a few weeks old to 20 years old. “The bond you end up developing with the patient and the family is so gratifying,” says McMahan.
After three years in the inpatient unit, McMahan moved to the outpatient pediatric hematology/oncology clinic and shortly thereafter, in April of 2010, McMahan was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That gave me a unique perspective,” says McMahan, who had a double mastectomy, and went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation. “I was treated at IU Health’s Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, so I appreciate all that they do.”
More than ever before, McMahan could relate to her patients, and she drew inspiration from them. “Other than the days I had treatments, I didn’t miss a day of work. I was at the pediatric clinic every day, and I think being able to see these kids is what kept me going,” says McMahan, who had a 10-month-old son at the time.
“I didn’t have time to be sick,” she recalls. “I had to care for a toddler and I had a job where I saw kids come in every single day, get their treatment and go back to school the next day. They were and are so very strong and resilient. So I thought, if they can do it, why can’t I?”
Though McMahan doesn’t dwell on her own cancer history, she can pull from her experience to help her patients. “I offer tips. But I always try to let the patient lead the conversation because it’s about the patient, not me,” she says.
McMahan has also had to learn how to handle the emotional toll of her job. “I try not to bring it home with me, even though that can be difficult to do. I try to focus on all of the strides we’ve made in cancer research, and all of the good we’re doing every day to treat our patients,” she says.
In fact, at Riley, many children are able to participate in new treatments and trials, which bring researchers closer to a cure. “One of the exciting things about working at Riley is that we’re on the cutting edge of new cancer therapies and developing clinical trials,” notes McMahan.
In January of 2013, McMahan became the clinical nurse manager of the Riley Infusion Center and Center for Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders, which just opened a new, state-of-the art outpatient space. As a manager, McMahan helps improve daily operations, leads the nursing team, and coordinates with the physician team and other teams throughout the hospital to ensure that patients get what they need.
“I’m looking at everything from evidence-based nursing practices to making sure our processes are effective and that we are providing optimal care,” says McMahan. “I miss the day-to-day interactions with patients I once had but I meet with families whenever I can and I understand that I’m working on a different level of providing for patients.”
This past year, McMahan and her team were especially involved in the opening of the new pediatric cancer center. “We were able to implement several new roles in our cancer center to help provide the best individualized care for our patients,” she says. “I feel fortunate to have a team that met the challenge head on and saw every obstacle as an opportunity, and to have had the opportunity to work with many other Riley leaders.”
In fact, McMahan is grateful for each day she works at Riley. “I love our patients, I love the families, and I love my team,” she says. “Riley is a fantastic place. I’ve been fortunate to have the role that I have, and I truly love what I do.”
-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman