Greetings, fellow registrars and CRAAZ members! I am relatively new to the cancer registry community, and I’d like to share what drew me to the field and where I currently am in this new career. Years ago, I had aspirations of contributing to cancer research and helping solve a small piece of the puzzle by studying mutated tumor suppressor p53 protein and its association with heat shock proteins in breast cancer cells. As a graduate student in cancer biology, I found molecular research with cancer cells interesting and challenging, but I couldn’t see myself as a principal investigator. Not many women were researchers in academia, and the few I knew were stressed trying to make it work. My ideal career had to have more flexibility. I didn’t want to do experiments in the lab every weekend or write grants during my free time.
I moved on to more graduate studies, this time in scholarly editing, and worked as an academic copy editor for over a decade, fine tuning authors’ manuscripts to transform textbooks, journal articles, and other written works into publishable shape. The work was enjoyable and flexible, but the deadlines were challenging. The project-based nature of the work made advancement elusive, and I became stuck.
In 2016, I began to search for a new career, one where I could use my knowledge of cancer biology and my experience with managing details as a copy editor. “Oncology Data Specialist” was the term that caught my attention. Had I found my professional niche at last? I read about NCRA and discovered that cancer registry work seemed to pull together many of my interests and skills. I could still make a contribution to cancer research without having to DO research. I could use my editorial attention to detail to create excellent abstracts. I could work remotely. I started the online certificate program offered by NCRA/AHIMA a little over a year ago. Through extreme luck, I was connected to Juliet Wilkins (our fearless CRAAZ leader) via the NCRA mentoring program, and I could not have asked for a smarter, kinder, or more patient person to guide me through these early stages of development into a cancer registrar. If you are new to the field, I highly recommend finding a mentor. The manuals are not always clear, and it helps to have someone with experience explain and clarify certain rules and exceptions. Last October I attended my first CRAAZ meeting and met Juliet in person. I also met the registrars at Tucson Medical Center (TMC) and learned that one of them was retiring.
Fast-forward to July 2018 and I’ve been working at TMC for about 8 months, performing all the functions of a CTR. Juliet was right, the learning curve is steep. I’m still on it. Analytical thinking and attention to detail are crucial, and my prior work prepared me well for these aspects. Staging isn’t as difficult as I expected because of my familiarity with the progression of cancer. One particular challenge for me, however, has been learning to decipher the clinical language used in operative reports. I do feel that I have found my niche though, and I am enjoying piecing together the story of each case and striving to assemble the most thorough and accurate abstracts I can.
I look forward to getting to know more of you and learning how you got into registry work and who helped you along the way. I want to hear about what’s going well in your work and what isn’t. How can we improve our abstracting, combine our intellectual resources, be more efficient, and support one another? This is part of CRAAZ’s mission. The more we collaborate, the stronger our work and our registry community will be. And a stronger registry community translates into high-quality data and better outcomes for cancer patients—our raison d’être.
Liz Pulcini, MS, General Membership Representative