A UCHealth north region program established last year brings care close to home for women who have cancers of the reproductive system. Gynecologic oncology (GYN-ONC) is a unique surgical subspecialty that provides innovative treatments for patients with cancers of the ovaries, vagina, uterus, cervix, and vulva.

“From day one, the vision for our clinic here was to provide outstanding gynecologic oncology care for the women of northern Colorado, while minimizing or eliminating the customary challenges associated with traveling to our metro Denver campus for care,” said Kristina Slunecka, a GYN-ONC nurse practitioner (NP).

Since the program’s establishment, volumes have been higher than forecasted, according to JoAnn Lovins, senior director of oncology services for UCHealth’s northern region. To help meet the high demand for services, Slunecka was added to the staff earlier this year. Slunecka supports Dr. Christine Walsh with complex GYN-ONC patients but needed qualification as a surgical assistant.

“As we discussed the scope of my NP role, I was thrilled at the prospect of assisting in surgery,” Slunecka said, “but I was also aware of the gaps in my education because NPs do not routinely train in graduate school for roles in the OR. To adequately fill the needs of this role, I sought out formal training opportunities so I could rapidly improve my skill set and provide this additional layer of support for Dr. Walsh and our northern Colorado patients.”

An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), Slunecka found a course that APRNs can take to qualify as surgical assistants. An APRN is a nursing professional who has earned a master’s or doctoral degree to handle advanced roles in health care.

With full tuition supported by donor contributions to the foundation’s cancer services fund, Slunecka signed up for the course.

“As part of the National Institute of First Assisting program, I was able to attend an in-person five-day event that offered hands-on training for suturing and simulated operating room (OR) cases specifically tailored for APRNs looking to move into OR roles,” Slunecka said. “This training, in conjunction with a self-paced formal instruction course, has given me the confidence I need to begin training in the OR with Dr. Walsh. Because Dr. Walsh splits her time between the UCHealth northern and metro Denver campuses, I believe this additional training will better prepare me to be a surgical resource for our GYN-ONC patients in the north as well as be Dr. Walsh’s ‘eyes and ears’ for post-operative care close to home.

“I am so appreciative of the foundation’s vision for the future of this program and for the financial support that has enabled me to contribute to a culture that prioritizes patient outcomes and improved patient experience.”

Thanks to our donors, the foundation is grateful for the capacity to invest philanthropic dollars in employee training. Such investment pays infinite dividends: Our workforce constantly advances their knowledge and skills, and our patients receive exceptional care from highly trained, dedicated professionals.