“Penny the Nurse” Honored with Ultimate Symbol of Gratitude

Penelope S. Fisher, M.S., R.N., C.O.R.L.N., Faculty Clinical Instructor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is an unsung hero for many. And now, her legacy has been memorialized with the ultimate symbol of gratitude – The Penelope S. Fisher Award for Outstanding Humanism in Clinical Care and Clinical Education. Fisher is the first recipient of the new award, named in her honor to recognize faculty members who embody the compassion, excellence and patient dedication that has defined her 49-year career.

“What an honor,” Fisher said. “So many people here do so many beautiful things every day. I feel blessed to be recognized and especially to be part of such a special team. This award is paramount … my own … recognizing my work in two things I love – clinical care and clinical education.”

The only otolaryngology faculty member who is a nurse, Fisher, or “Penny the Nurse” as everyone affectionately calls her, received the award at the department’s June 7 James R. Chandler Resident and Fellow Research Forum and graduation, where it will be presented annually.

Reflecting on the essence of the award, Fisher quoted Chandler, the department’s first chair, who said, “The finest compliment is the respect of your peers.”

“Penny Fisher exemplifies the best of nursing and, for that matter, healthcare in general,” said Fred F. Telischi, M.D., professor and the James R. Chandler Chair of Otolaryngology. “Her diligent care of head and neck cancer patients, as well as her belief in sharing her knowledge with others through outstanding teaching and mentoring, makes her one of the brightest stars at our medical center. She deserves this award, which bears her name and will honor those who continue her legacy.”

Fisher has been a healthcare pioneer since joining the medical school in 1998.

“When I came to UM, I was told that I would be the first nurse on the medical school faculty,” she recalled. “I have since lived to set the example for others so that they may have the same opportunity to flourish here as I have.”

Fisher has done just that, by transforming patient care through education, continuity and mentorship. In 2006 she began a primary nursing program that pairs nurses and physicians with patients so that they see and interact with the same nurse at every visit. Over the course of treatment, the assigned nurse remains the patient’s primary contact, resulting in better communication and outcomes.

Despite a somewhat stormy year – Fisher underwent seven months of chemotherapy – she never wavered and even continued to work full-time, thanks to colleagues and patients who motivated her.

In September 2013, Fisher presented “Care of Tracheotomy and Laryngectomy Patients: Increased Quality of Life, which was chosen for national presentation and received the prestigious Kalynn Quinn Hensley Head and Neck/Laryngology Lectureship Award from the Society of Otorhinolaryngology and Head-Neck Nurses, which Fisher has been a member of since 1979. Within the same month, she also received the Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses, a national award that honors the super-human work nurses do in direct care of patients and their families every day. The award, supported by the DAISY (Diseases Attacking the Immune System) Foundation, was presented by the Sylvester nursing administration.

“The award was a total surprise, and it was one of my worst days, physically,” Fisher remembered. “It has been a year of challenges with my health and family, but every day I got to work with an extraordinary group of folks who daily make a difference and are never satisfied with the status quo. They motivate the level of excellence we need to provide to our patients and each other.”

Having been a patient herself, Fisher cherishes her work even more.

Notes from grateful patients fill a drawer in her office – a reminder that anything less than extraordinary is not an option.

“I just want to thank you for generously giving me your time and even pulling your car over so we could talk,” wrote Arlene Ferris in a June 9 letter expressing her gratitude for Fisher’s patience and kindness when she called her in need of help understanding treatments options for her husband’s sarcoma. “You went above and beyond as you always do, and we deeply appreciate it,” she continued.

Fisher says she keeps the drawer of notes to remind her that “after all the things we endure with our patients, some tell you how you helped them and that is quite possibly the greatest moment of all.”

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