Get to know Heather Thompson Mackey, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCN®, secretary on the ONS Board of Directors from 2019–2021 and director-at-large from 2018–2021. Heather is the clinical editor in oncology for Elsevier and a nurse practitioner for Novant Health Cancer Prevention and Wellness in Winston-Salem, NC.
How long have you been a nurse?
I have been an oncology nurse for 24 years, with the past 19 as an oncology nurse practitioner.
What led you to oncology nursing?
I fell in love with oncology while caring for patients with cancer in nursing school. Those experiences, coupled with my interest in critical care, led me to accept a position in bone marrow transplant after graduation.
What was your first experience with ONS?
I joined ONS during my first year of practice and became involved with my local chapter (shoutout to the Piedmont Triad ONS Chapter!) to learn more about the profession.
What role has ONS served in your career?
ONS has provided me with so many opportunities to grow personally and professionally. It’s offered me everything from with mentors as a new nurse to needed education throughout every stage of my career to fostering my leadership skills to enhancing my career development. I have come to rely on ONS as my professional home.
What relationships and connections have you made through ONS that you wouldn’t have found otherwise?
The connections through my ONS involvement have made all the difference in my career. I have found mentors to guide my practice, colleagues to network with and learn from, and friendships that stretch across the miles and years. I would not be the same— personally or professionally—without them.
How did you get involved in ONS leadership?
My first leadership position was as secretary for my local PTONS Chapter. That experience gave me the confidence to apply for the national Institutes of Learning (previously known as Fall Institutes) Planning Team and the ONCC Certification News Editorial Board. The mentoring and professional growth from those experiences led to a variety of leadership roles that ultimately brought me to my current role as secretary for the ONS Board of Directors. I will always be thankful for what I learned through each of those experiences.
What has been your proudest moment as an oncology nurse?
My proudest moment as an oncology nurse was being told by my patient’s mother, following my patient’s death, that I was the reason her daughter didn’t suffer and that her last weeks were better because of me. Looking back on it, I wasn’t doing anything that we as oncology nurses don’t do every day when we manage symptoms and help our patients with their fears about dying, but hearing those words impressed on me what a true difference I made in my patient’s (and her mother’s) life. It’s humbling that we have that opportunity as nurses, and it’s one that I don’t take for granted.
What is your biggest challenge in oncology nursing today and how can ONS help?
Keeping up with today’s rapidly evolving oncology landscape: from new agents and indications to emerging technologies, I feel like I could spend every waking moment of the day reading and absorbing all the information out there and still fall behind with what’s new! ONS helps by providing resources to help stay on top of that knowledge and is working on ways to make them even more accessible for busy clinicians.
What word would you say describes you?
What do you enjoy doing outside of nursing and why? Several years ago, my husband and I began taking steps to improve our physical and mental health. We both had a certain milestone approaching (hello 50!), and we knew it would only be harder the older we became. We began to eat healthier, lose weight, exercise regularly, and (attempt to) reduce stress in our lives. It remains a work in progress (as I know many can empathize with), but I try to spend what free time I have reading about diet and nutrition (my current favorite is The Obesity Code by Jason Fung, MD), finding healthy foods to try (never thought I’d like kale), and being physically active (one half-marathon down and hoping for another later this year or early next). I am working on integrating mindfulness into my daily practice for 2020.