The winds of change—they do blow. This is especially true for Kyle McMichael, RN, an oncology float nurse who on any given day can find himself at a different clinic, hospital floor or cancer center.
“I like change,” said McMichael, 28, a native of Columbus, Ohio. “I enjoy that my day is rarely predictable. As a float nurse, I regularly get to experience new faces, fresh scenery and different stimuli.”
As a youngster, McMichael decided he wanted to pursue a career providing medical care. And, although his education at Ohio State University taught him the skills he would need for nursing, it is his personal encounter with cancer that married artful skill with compassionate care.
“When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system,” McMichael shared. “The year that followed involved many hospital stays, surgeries and chemotherapy. As anyone would imagine, I spent a lot of time interacting with nurses—empathic nurses who left a lasting impression.”
McMichael credits these nurses with helping to shape the trajectory of his life.
“I know from firsthand experience that nurses can make a huge impact,” said McMichael, who even 18 years later remains in contact with many of the nurses who treated him when he was a child. “I, too, wanted the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of others.”
McMichael, understanding the “nasty” side effects of treatment, believes he is in some ways uniquely able to ease the anxieties and apprehensions his patients may be experiencing.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was young enough to be somewhat naïve, but I was old enough to understand the gravity of my situation,” he said. “I remember wondering when, if ever, I would get to go outside and play. My patients also want to know when life will get back to normal.”
No matter where he is assigned or how hectic or busy the day may be, McMichael makes time to interact with each patient, whether it be chatting about local craft beers, children, pets or even the weather.
“Cancer isn’t uplifting,” said McMichael, whose wife, Taylor, is a nurse with the Duke Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. “Taking a moment to connect helps. And laughter—well, it’s a beautiful thing.”
As a member of the DCI’s Oncology Float Pool, McMichael provides coverage for clinics that are short-staffed. Assignments take him to Duke Cancer Center at Duke Regional Hospital, Duke Bone Marrow Transplant and Cell Therapy at North Pavilion or to the clinics at Duke Cancer Center.
Because he’s not dedicated to any one clinic or disease, he must be proficient in all types of cancer and able to execute associated treatment plans. In the two years McMichael has been at Duke, he has been able to build vital relationships with many nurses and specialists, some of whom he might not otherwise interact with if he provided care within a specific disease area.
“Although it can be challenging at first to get acclimated and acquainted, it doesn’t take long to put a name to a face,” McMichael said. “Likewise, it doesn’t take long to become part of the team.”
When being treated all those years ago, McMichael struck up a friendship with another patient, who, sadly, succumbed to her cancer. However, before her passing she, like so many of the nurses who cared for him, made an indelible mark on McMichael when she shared with him a line from a poem she had written:
I know if I could make a difference in one single person’s life, it would be enough to carry me through life happily.
“I’ve never forgotten that verse,” shared McMichael, who keeps the refrain top of mind no matter where the winds of change may take him. “It’s my mindset—the one constant. Making a difference is what it’s all about.”