Three Cheers For Classified Staff

Three Cheers For Classified Employees


Leonard Zwelling

MD Anderson is special in many ways. Sure, its major assets are its name and its faculty. The name and faculty serve each other well. The name attracts the faculty and the great faculty created the excellence that is MD Anderson’s reputation no matter what US News and World Report or Vizient say.

MD Anderson also has another secret weapon—its classified staff. I would like to focus on a subset of these people, the patient care technicians and the ancillary clinical care folks like nurses, medical assistants, and physician extenders. They too are critical to the fulfilling of MD Anderson’s mission and I, as a patient, cannot express my gratitude enough.

If I had to characterize what makes the classified staff in the patient care areas so special it is their attitude of “we got this.” They exude this with every encounter. Let me describe my recent experience. If this is too much information for you, read the next blog instead, but my experience as a patient goes to make a point.

I have a concierge doctor. At my age (74), I can no longer act as the quarterback of my health care team as I had for years. My long-time gastroenterologist retired. He had played the role of play caller for many years in conjunction with my cardiologist. I needed a good internist to replace me in the overseer role.

I got a name of a concierge doctor from a trusted, older friend and it has been an excellent experience.

This November it was time for my annual history, physical, and lab assessment and everything was as it should be except for one lab value. My PSA (prostate-specific antigen) had risen to 5.45 despite it having been 3.2 (within normal range) at MD Anderson in June.

I called my MD Anderson prostate care team and November 22 was my day for assessment. Was this raised PSA a sign of early prostate cancer or a red herring?

I arrived at the Mayes Building at 7 AM for an MD Anderson PSA—done in house and very accurate. By 7:10 there was a needle in my arm. The technician was perfect in her blood drawing technique and commented that I only had one tube to fill, a sign most patients took as promising.

The value was on my cellphone by 8 AM. 3.5. Within normal limits.

The GU Clinic saw me or shall I say many classified staff did. A technician took my vital signs and asked if I had fallen or was in danger of doing so. I responded that no I hadn’t fallen and had no intention of doing so.

Then came the nurse reviewing my meds and my symptoms (none). Then came the physician’s assistant who did the required physical (guys, you know the drill) and got a special urine test to assess my risk of having prostate cancer. Another MD Anderson special.

An MRI had been scheduled for that night. My faculty doc said let’s get the baseline test even though the high value at the concierge doc’s office appeared to have been spurious.

I was called by the Radiology Outpatient Clinic (ROC) just before seven PM. “Can you come early for your 8:15 test?”

“Sure.” And off I went to the ROC in the dark.

The staff at the ROC valet park your car for free. I checked in.

The clerk asked if I still had my wrist band from the morning which I thought was clever of her. Indeed, I had retained it all day, even through a pilates class.

From then on, in the spooky confines of the ROC (a little dark and somewhat claustrophobic—but not like the MRI scanner), I was treated extremely well from the nurse inserting the IV line to the technician who did the study. A warning is in order here. A prostate MRI at MD Anderson is not like a routine study anywhere else. Let’s just say the magnetic coil is inserted very close to the prostate gland if you get my drift.

Again, the technician, who was training another classified employee, exuded competence and confidence in what was a difficult procedure for the patient—me. That inserted probe and the study lasted well over an hour, but through every step the technician had the aura of “I’ve got this. We’ve got this.” And we did.

The next day the PA sent me a message through MyChart that the MRI showed no suspicious areas. The official reading came three days later. It actually included the MRI images that I could view on my cell phone—not that I knew exactly what I was looking at.  My training pre-dates MRIs. I was relieved, of course, but I cannot say enough about the professionalism of the classified staff at every step in the diagnostic process. It was a hard day, but it was made tolerable by these people without whom the MD Anderson would not be the great patient care provider that it is.

So, three cheers for the classified employees. This patient is very grateful for all of them.

6 thoughts on “Three Cheers For Classified Staff”

  1. I could not agree with you more about my experiences with the classified staff at MD Andersen. Even to the time that I walked in the door to a building that was the farthest from the doctors office. As I was wandering down the hallway looking for elevators, a person, who apparently worked there, asked me if I needed help. I said yes, I was looking for elevator eight and she said,” oh, you mean elevator A”. I’m going that way, let me show you where it is. All of my clinical experiences have been exactly as you described.

  2. Thanks for acknowledging the professionalism and importance of all these members of a healthcare team. I had not previously heard them to be “classified staff.” We keep trying new titles for them; in the end, they are our “colleagues” in so many ways. It was so nice of you to praise them, and hopefully many of them will read your comments. Please send it up the “Chain of Command.”

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