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Nurse of the Week Ellen Mulkerrins, BSN. RN, OCN has always stood out for her empathy, compassion, and standards of care. The Daisy Award winner cares for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering—with emphasis on the word “care”–and as Michelle Sottile, BSN, RN, OCN said in a moving tribute, “I personally saw Ellen’s true gift when she cared for my own family member. Nothing was too much for her to make sure my family member was comfortable, monitored closely and, especially, could laugh, making his hospital stay easier. Her compassion, kindness and dedication will never be forgotten.”

“All her patients are left smiling, asking for pillows to brace their fresh surgical incisions as they try not to laugh.”

Virginia Pfeifer, B.S.N., RN, OCN, CWOCN, Memorial Sloane Kettering

Life as a New Yorker certainly hasn’t diminished Mulkerrins’ capacity for empathy. She is known for her ability to “sense unspoken needs” of her patients, as well as for her sensitive treatment and support of those who are in pain or are dying. And, as Sottile makes clear, Ellen Mulkerrins will gladly go the extra mile (or two) to lift patients’ spirits and brighten the last days of those who are not going to recover.

One of Mulkerrins’ patients needed all the brightness his nurse could muster. He checked in with a security… action figure—a Hulk doll he carried as he wrestled with his disease and his fears. Mulkerrins quickly became another source of security and comfort as she gained his trust. As he pondered his deteriorating condition and the growing unlikelihood that he would survive, he spoke to her of his partner, saying that he deeply regretted not having formalized their relationship by getting married. So the OCN took on a side-gig, as a wedding planner.

Mulkerrins orchestrated a ceremony that allowed her patient to tie the knot in the hospital. (He entrusted his Hulk doll to her for the duration). There was music; two nurses walked the wife-to-be down the make-shift “aisle,” and some witnesses were so moved that they followed the tradition of crying at a wedding.

One of Mulkerrins’ colleagues vividly described her effect on the unit. A fellow Sloan-Kettering nurse, Virginia Pfeifer, B.S.N., RN, OCN, CWOCN, said, “To Ellen, caring for patients is not just a job but a passion. She treats each patient as if they were her own family. There is no request from a patient that is too big for Ellen. If there is anything she has taught our staff over the years, it’s that the small things count. All her patients are left smiling, asking for pillows to brace their fresh surgical incisions as they try not to laugh. No matter how difficult the day, Ellen’s passion and joy for the patients and their families is evident.”

For more details on Ellen Mulkerrins, see Michelle Sottile’s article in And for a feast of outstanding oncology nurses, see CureToday’s 2020 issue of Extraordinary Healer ® (PDF file).

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