Loyda Braithwaite, an oncology nurse practitioner at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, finds opportunities to help cancer patients both in the United States and abroad.
“I wanted to make a larger impact for my patients, colleagues and the profession. I am currently a Ph.D. student in the UW-Madison School of Nursing,” she told Madison365. “As a future nurse scientist, I want to focus my research on cancer health needs in minority populations.”
Braithwaite specializes in caring for patients with breast cancer and helped develop and conduct education programs in both Latin America and West Africa. Braithwaite also volunteers as a co-facilitator for a Hispanic breast cancer support group at the Catholic Multicultural Center.
“I knew I could be my best as a professional but also as a human,” she said.
Braithwaite acknowledges both the physical and mental needs of cancer patients, providing a more holistic approach to servicing those in her care. This often requires her and her colleagues to work as a coordinated care team to provide inclusive care to patients of all backgrounds.
“We cannot be ego-centered and focused on ourselves. We have to be understanding,” Braithwaite said. “Even when we have the scientific knowledge we have to listen.”
This requires providers to enter the room with humility, compassion and patience, she said. Braithwaite attempts to build a connection with all her patients but finds a special bond with her Latina patients as one of the Carbone Cancer Center’s only Spanish-speaking providers.
“I think a lot of women when they’re going through this super vulnerable point in their life, it’s like ‘woof, what a relief,” Braithwaite said.
Patients sometimes tell her it’s inspiring to see a woman of color in her position. She hopes this also eases some of the distrust of the medical field they might have.
“I celebrate the happy moments with our patients and families, and I support them through difficult times,” Braithwaite said. “The purpose of my work is to make their journey more manageable. My patients are daily reminders that I have chosen the right profession.”
However, she’s also invested in helping build a better care system. Braithwaite is heavily involved in nursing education throughout the western hemisphere.
“In cancer, there’s so much neglect to mental health, it’s unbelievable,” she said.
Braithwaite is a member of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation’s committee responsible for evaluating the learning needs for the oncology nurse practitioners’ national certification test. She participated in the development of a program for oncology nurses in Honduras in collaboration with Health Volunteer Overseas and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
In addition, Braithwaite volunteered with the Oncology Nursing Society and ASCO to provide oncology nursing education in Colombia and Ghana. She worked in the Caribbean as well, providing rural general practice care in the Dominican Republic.
Back in November, Braithwaite had returned to the states after spending some time in Panama. Her family lives in a small town on the western side of the Central American nation bordering Costa Rica.
“It’s been almost two years without seeing my family,” she said.
Born and raised in Panama, Braithwaite earned her degree in nursing at the University of Panama. She found her passion for cancer care at the Panamanian National Oncologic Institute.
“Early on I was inclined to be in healthcare. Even in high school, I knew I wanted to go into healthcare,” she said.
Braithwaite imagined continuing her career as a healthcare provider in Panama but life happened. She met her now-husband, a Peace Corps volunteer and the two fell in love and moved to the states in 2009.
Braithwaite was fortunate to have been able to transfer the education she received in Panama to the United States.
“I had to go through a lot of testing and all those assessments someone who lived abroad has to go through but eventually I was able to validate everything and continue my career,” she said.
Braithwaite earned a master’s degree in nursing from Loyola University Chicago in 2015, specializing in oncology. Now, she’s halfway through her Ph.D.
She hopes her research at the UW-Madison School of Nursing will benefit immigrant populations and communities of color for generations to come.
“As a clinician, there’s a lot I can do for my patients, my community and minority populations but from a research standpoint I feel like the impact could potentially be a little bit larger,” Braithwaite said.