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Healthy Balance

7 Quick Questions with Oncology Nurse Practitioner Michelle Otto

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Every day more people are getting diagnosed with cancer. Hearing you have cancer, no matter the stage, is upsetting. Our team of doctors, nurses, and staff are all here to offer care and compassion during treatments. An oncology nurse practitioner will help you along the way — either in the hospital or treatment center — making sure you stay healthy as possible.

Michelle Otto, ANP, MSN, RN, is an adult nurse practitioner at UVA Cancer Care, a department of Culpeper Medical Center. She sees a wide range of cancer patients, including:

Meet a UVA Cancer Nurse Practitioner

We asked Otto to answer our 7 Quick Questions.

Why did you become a nurse practitioner?

I became a nurse practitioner because my grandmother was a nurse. I always admired my grandmother because she was a single mom raising my dad, and she provided for the family. During that time, she also obtained her bachelor's degree in nursing. So I followed in her footsteps and initially became a registered nurse.

I was working on a unit, and a PA had me write her orders at the nurses' station. And I thought, "Well, if I can write the orders for her, then that's something that I can do." So I went back to school and became a nurse practitioner. And I think it's the best decision I've ever made because I love being a nurse practitioner.

How did you choose your specialty?

My specialty actually chose me. I was moving to Fayetteville, North Carolina, after getting married, and received a new position as a registered nurse at the local hospital there. I had a choice of going to the nephrology unit or the med surgery unit that took care of oncology patients. So I chose the oncology position, and I'm so glad that I did because the patients there are wonderful. The oncology patients, they're so appreciative and grateful for whatever you do for them.

What's one thing about your specialty that might surprise people?

I think the biggest thing is when I tell people that I'm an oncology nurse practitioner, they always say, "Oh, how depressing." But that's wrong. I mean, we see patients that are five, 10, 20-year survivors of cancer. So it's not depressing. You're helping people, making them feel better, having a better quality of life, extending their life. So, in fact, oncology is a very rewarding specialty.

What's the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?

I would say that that's immunotherapy because it's really changed the game as far as treatment for oncology patients. We are able to give medication that stimulates the patient's own immune system to fight off the cancers. And it has minimal side effects, not like traditional chemotherapy. So it's really been a game changer in our field.

Cancer Care in Northern Virginia

UVA offers convenient cancer treatment in Culpeper.

Where did you grow up?

Well, we traveled a lot. I think my family had figured out that we had moved over 20 times during my childhood with the military. My dad was a US Army colonel. We lived all over the United States, Washington State, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kansas, and Virginia. We also lived overseas: Hong Kong, Japan, and Thailand. So I grew up everywhere.

Who is your inspiration or hero?

I would have to say my inspiration is my parents. Both of them grew up in a rural town in Kansas, and they didn't have anything. My mom always likes to say that they had 50 cents when they got married, and they have both been very successful. Then my dad says it was in the military. My mom was a high school art teacher. So they are my inspiration, along with my grandmother, the nurse that raised my dad.

What's your favorite thing about working at UVA?

I would say it's the people. I mean, we have a great group of people from the front desk staff to the LPN's to the nurses in the infusion center to our pharmacy. And then I've got two great oncologists that I work with. So it's a joy to come to work with these people and to help others.

View Transcript
Transcript: My name is Michelle Otto. I'm an adult nurse practitioner. I work at the Community Cancer Center in Culpeper, Virginia. I see patients who are undergoing treatment for a variety of cancers. We see cancers from melanoma, breast, to colorectal, head and neck. I will see them, initially at diagnosis, and then throughout their treatment. And then we also see patients who have completed treatment. We see them in our survivor’s clinic. In high school, I had a respiratory arrest. I was taken to the emergency room and there was a nurse there named Dixie that I will always remember. And I admired her and I decided that I wanted to do something to help others. When I tell people that I am an oncology nurse practitioner, they always say, "Oh, how depressing." We see patients that are 5, 10, 20 years survivors of cancer. It's not depressing. You're helping people, making them feel better, having a better quality of life, extending their life. So in fact, oncology is very rewarding. We provide treatment for them and they're living a quality life. The pain is gone. They're able to do the things that they need to on a daily basis. So that gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that I have helped somebody.

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