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Alumni making a difference

Oncology, palliative care pioneers support expansion of care

Photo: Connie H YarbroConnie Yarbro

Connie Yarbro, MSN, RN, FAAN, is internationally recognized as an oncology nursing pioneer and her efforts are reflected across UAB’s campus in the School of Nursing.

Starting in 1972, Yarbro worked with John Durant, MD, to build the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, now the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. This was one of the country’s first comprehensive cancer centers, and it remains one of the nation’s leading cancer research institutions.

During her career, Yarbro spent more than four decades molding the oncology nursing specialty. In the mid-1970s, she worked with the UAB School of Nursing faculty to start oncology nursing classes. She founded the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) while at UAB and led the establishment of the ONS Foundation a few years later.

“My early goals related to the fact that there was no specialty for oncology nursing, and those of us who called ourselves oncology nurses across the country were developing our own support system,” Yarbro said. “By founding the Oncology Nursing Society and Oncology Nursing Foundation, we have been able to reach thousands of members; advance support for cancer nurses, research and education; and promote nursing education.”

Yarbro helped establish an Oncology Nurse Practitioner program with the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and UAB School of Nursing, and that program has developed into the current Master’s program.

In 2010, Yarbro received the Lifetime Achievement Award from ONS. She was also named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing in 2017.

“It is very important to educate nurses as oncology nurse practitioners not only because of the projected shortage of oncologists over the next decade but also because of the quality of care they can provide to cancer patients,” Yarbro said. “Many oncology nurse practitioners work in collaboration with medical oncologists in private practice, have initiated early detection and screening programs in a variety of settings, and are evolving their role in the academic setting through research, leadership and evidence-based practice.”

Photo: Madeline HarrisMadeline Harris (BSN 1975, MSN 1990)

Madeline Harris, MSN, RN, is a two-time graduate of the UAB School of Nursing. Throughout her career, Harris has devoted time to improving the lives of cancer patients at the bedside and in oncology nursing management positions.

Harris conducted research and worked to change policy in order to allow nurse clinicians to perform bone marrow exams and to establish Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and chemotherapy safety guidelines for nurses. Harris said her experience as a registered nurse prepared her for oncology practice, and the support of UABSON mentors including Judy Holcomb, Billie Henderson and Karen Meneses encouraged her to expand the scope of her practice and to pursue further education.

“My career goals expanded when I began practice in the oncology field and with my mentors locally,” Harris said. “The curriculum and clinical practice experience I gained through my mentors and the School of Nursing allowed a comprehensive knowledge of oncology practice. That knowledge helped in my role as coordinator of the UAB Interdisciplinary Breast Cancer Center, and we were able to ensure quality care, education and support for women and their loved ones even before that was the standard for all types of cancers.”

Harris previously served as Director of the Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and as a coordinator in the UAB Interdisciplinary Breast Cancer Center. She retired as director from the Women’s Breast Health Fund in 2018 and retired as coordinator in 2008 but continues to advocate for women with breast cancer.

Harris was inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame in 2010, and her work has been honored by the American Cancer Society. She was also instrumental in establishing the Young Breast Cancer Survivorship Network initiative in the UAB School of Nursing.

“UAB School of Nursing faculty are excellent mentors for young men and women who seek a nursing degree,” Harris said. “Mentoring and support starts at the top with Dean Doreen Harper, who enjoys interfacing with students, and students and faculty members discuss and take steps to meet goals. Because of the excellent preparation nurses receive in the graduate and undergraduate programs, UAB School of Nursing graduates become nurse leaders who have a voice.”

Last modified on September 24, 2019