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Meet the 2019 MSK Values in Action Recipients

07/08/2019 Mia A. Garchitorena

We are proud to share the stories of some of our incredible MSK employees who were selected through MSK's Values in Action Recognition Program for 2019. This program honors staff members for their commitment to MSK values: Relentless, United, and Caring.

We asked the honorees to share their thoughts about MSK — what it means to them to work here and what they appreciate most. Here's what they told us.

Dwight Lazarus, Jitney Driver, MSK 60th Street | Nominated for being Caring

Working out of Memorial Hospital and MSK's Brooklyn Infusion Center, Dwight has shuttled MSK employees and patients on the jitney since 2007. He says the strength and perseverance that patients exhibit remind him of his mother, a breast cancer survivor. He is inspired by their journeys and strives to help others in any way he can.

"When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, it made me want to do whatever I could to help our patients because I knew what she was going through. At Memorial, you meet different people every day and they tell you their personal stories. I try to be compassionate, helpful and supportive to them.

"I've become friends with many patients and some patients visiting from Brooklyn Infusion Center recognize me. I love my job!"

Carina Marasigan nominated Dwight for being Caring after he helped a patient's family by providing directions to the Main Campus parking lot and MSK's 60th street location. "When you noticed they were from out of town, and looked lost, you told them to follow you as you were heading that way," she says. "You were more than helpful, courteous, and you cared. You demonstrate the values that represent MSKCC."

 

Anna Borrell, Clinical Research Specialist, Sloan Kettering Institute| Nominated for being United and Caring

In April 2019, Anna celebrated her first year as a Clinical Research Specialist in MSK's Correlative Science Program (CSP). Members of this relatively new department handle the logistics of research specimen collection, shipment and preparation for MSK Institutional Review Board approved clinical trials. Born in Russia and raised on Long Island, Anna worked as a nanny and at a private investment firm before joining MSK.

Her role at MSK is "one of the most exciting jobs I've had – over the last few months, working more closely with clinical trial amendments across all services has been extremely rewarding. It is a reminder that the future of cancer care is constantly evolving, and being realized, here at MSK.

"Being here at Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion is a true gift. I've learned so much from my colleagues, the incredible nursing staff, the DTU technicians, and the study teams we work with.

"Receiving the Values in Action badges is a wonderful example of how grateful CSP is for each other. We're so busy on a day-to-day basis, so it's great that we can stop and take a breather and appreciate one another.

"Our department is very small. We're a team of fewer than 35 people, but every single one of us is relentless and devoted to what we do."

Michele Sanchez and Edward Nunez thank Anna for being a United, Caring, and resourceful team player.

Kerri Riffone, Care Coordinator II, MSK Commack | Nominated for being United and Caring

Kerri's first encounter with MSK was about 10 years ago, when her mother underwent treatment for breast cancer. She recalled the amazing staff and the thorough care her mother received in the Department of Radiology at MSK Commack and was incredibly impacted by the positive experience.

Because of that, she left her job at a dental office about two and a half years ago to join the very same department where her mother was treated. She often works with the same surgeon who led her mother's care — Lisa Sclafani, MD, FACS, Director of Surgical Services.

"My mom was impressed by MSK's care, and she's a hard lady to impress! The comfort MSK gives to patients and caregivers made me very interested in working here."

At MSK, Kerri also found her work to be just as rewarding as raising her two daughters. "Being a mother is my most important job and my time at home is valuable, but my time at MSK is the same. I'm teaching my girls to work hard and do something fulfilling.

"I also really like the patient interaction in my job. I love meeting interesting people, getting to know them, and seeing them get better. Every day is different, and patients just want to get a good scan and good news. And I am happy to be a part of that.

"I really appreciate my team; we couldn't do our jobs without each other. They have all taught me a lot and we grow and learn together.

"When I received this recognition, I thought maybe I got the wrong email! As soon as I left work, I called my mom and told her and she's very excited to see the poster. And now she teases me and calls me the 'Face of MSK.' I'm honored to have been selected."

Jill Motta, Nicole Nieves, Rosamaria Falbo, and Cheryl Haughie describe Kerri as "dedicated, generous," and an important asset to MSK Commack's Department of Radiology. 

Sal Bechara, Network Analyst III in Information Systems, 633 Third Avenue | Nominated for being Relentless

Sal's introduction to MSK was unconventional yet momentous: He joined Information Systems as a part-time contractor in 2010 after being asked to send his resume while he was being interviewed as a job reference for a friend. In 2018, he became a full-time employee when an opportunity in his department became available.

"MSK is the kind of place where it's easy to stay. In IT, we're used to jumping companies every few years, but this is one of the few places where I see people who are going on their 15th, 20th, or 25th year. That culture exists both in Information Systems and throughout the hospital.

"There's a sense of community here and you really get to know people and build relationships with different teams. It's very enjoyable. From the tech side, the investments that MSK makes and how we're constantly improving our technology is not something every place I've worked at does. MSK is a very dynamic place where we're constantly trying new things in order to improve services and patient care.

"I was embarrassed to be recognized; I'm not a recognition guy. I love being behind-the-scenes and just doing my job. But it's greatly appreciated when someone acknowledges that I can make a difference."

Cyd Charisse Villalba describes Sal as, "Hands-down, one of the best Help Desk analysists. Once I see Sal's name, I know the issue will have a resolution, and at the very least, a root-cause, a next-steps plan, and a contact. He is tenacious, courteous, and competent. Sal is an asset."  

Jared Peterson, Designer in Communications, MSK 61st Street | Nominated for being United and Relentless

Jared has a special eye for detail. His role as a Designer in MSK's Design & Creative Services showcases his unique talent for creating brochures, e-signs, flyers, and web banners and promoting MSK's values through these materials. He has produced a vast array of designs that employees and patients alike have seen and admired since he joined MSK in June 2015.  

"Everybody has a role to play in supporting the mission of the institution. The work that we do in the Communications Department helps advance the message of MSK, educate patients, and connect our clinical colleagues with each other to share what they've been doing and to learn from each other. Even in a non-medical role, you can do a lot to support the mission and advance the work of the institution.

"One of the unique parts of Design & Creative Services is that we get exposure to every part of the hospital, and dip in and out of everything that makes the institution work. I like working on the patient-facing materials and thinking about what's going through somebody's mind when they read an MSK brochure, flyer, or e-sign, and what I can do to help them understand the info that's being presented.

"The important thing is to make sure that everything we do has a united look. We want to make sure that everything we create looks like MSK and that it reflects our standard of work and the care that every department delivers to patients."

Luba Trost says Jared has a "real talent for bridging themes and converting our messaging needs into fresh, creative concepts. Our communications are so much sharper as a result. It's always a pleasure to collaborate!"

Jennifer Brosnan says, "Jared is an integral part of our CancerSmart team as he creates all of the graphics and slides for each program. Jared is a pleasure to work with." 

Tara Sigidi, Acting Nurse Leader, MSK 53rd Street | Nominated for being Relentless

Tara's fascination with oncology treatments for breast and gynecological cancers motivated her to pursue a career on M10, MSK's women's health unit. Since 1997, she has worked in various nursing roles and is now the acting Nurse Leader covering the Ambulatory Chemotherapy Infusion Practices and Chemotherapy Verification Desk.

Tara was also one of the first nurses to administer the now FDA-approved chemotherapy drug Avastin to MSK patients in its phase I and II clinical trials. Seeing a commercial for Avastin on television for the first time made her jump for joy, she says, and she's proud of her role at MSK. She continues to be inspired by her interactions with patients at the bedside

"When I care for patients, I feel like I'm giving back to my family members who passed away from cancer. I feel privileged to be a part of a patient's journey. Supporting, educating, and nurturing them is critical to their healing. I feel so important in my role and what we do matters so much.

"You don't know how much you influence those around you and I feel very humbled to work here. To receive a public thank you makes me want to pay it forward and create a ripple effect.

"I want to give a shout out to my nurse leader Kristin Cawley who's been an incredible mentor. She's been highly supportive of my career and my going back to school. She truly allowed me to grow under her leadership.

"I'm a Sloan lifer; I see myself retiring from here. My mom loves that her child works at a world-renowned facility and she gets amazing feedback when she tells people. I truly love it here. MSK is a part of my life."

Amanda Albanese says, "Tara is a true advocate of her patients and colleagues and is relentless in her commitment to those around her." 

Paul Girdler, Clinical Nurse II, MSK 53rd Street | Nominated for being Relentless

Originally from Australia, Paul and his wife traveled across the United States and worked as travel nurses. They eventually settled in New York when Paul joined MSK. Paul, who typically worked in inpatient settings, was hesitant to transition to outpatient work, especially at a cancer hospital. He began in Memorial Hospital's Orthopedics department, then transferred to the Neurology department at MSK's 53rd street location. There, he quickly found himself loving his day-to-day interactions with patients. He thoroughly enjoyed building bonds with them and sharing special sentiments about patients with his colleagues.

"I find that the neurology patients and patients with primary brain tumors are amazing people. I see their strength and their need to continue on. You become connected to your patients and develop a professional relationship with them just by talking about their day. It's not all about talking about cancer. I enjoy that.

"My team is amazing. I've never worked with a group of nurses like this before. We're always ready to help each other and we're all friends and great coworkers. We communicate with each other very well during the good and bad days. You don't feel uncomfortable sharing that you're having a bad day when a patient passes away. It's a very tight-knit community.

"I enjoy what I do, and I am honored to be recognized for it."

Julie Hodorowski tells Paul, "You exemplify a relentless nature when it comes to advocating for the patient and the team you work with. You go for the small wins and always try to come up with solutions."

Vincent Fortunato, Locksmith in Facilities Management, Memorial Hospital | Nominated for being Relentless

Vincent, or "Vinny" as MSK employees call him, works tirelessly as MSK's locksmith, helping employees unlock doors or change locks. And for the past 18 years at MSK, Vinny has worked as in-house Santa Claus during the holidays. Every Christmastime, he and a group of carolers visit patients and employees to spread holiday cheer. Despite his in-house fame as Santa, he was still shocked to find he was nominated for the Employee Recognition Poster.

"It felt like I hit the lottery! Everybody's very cheerful and people are always smiling. I appreciate the recognition that people give me after I do a good job. 

"The hospital does take care of our employees very well. My advice to our staff is to work together and make MSK a better place."

Manuel Rosa and Lynda Venezia describe Vincent as caring. After watching a video of Vincent as Santa, Manuel Rosa says, "Putting the smiles on our patient's faces and lifting their spirits is all worth it. It's the true meaning of our MSK values at work." 

Stephanie Zavolas, Team Lead in the Department of Neurology, Memorial Hospital | Nominated for being United and Caring

To patients with brain tumors, Stephanie is known as "the voice of the Neurology Department." Hers is the first voice they hear when they call to schedule an appointment or to simply ask questions about where to go after their initial diagnosis. Stephanie is swift in referring them to a neuro-oncologist to begin their treatment path, and she loves helping others.

Stephanie says that her passion for helping neurology patients comes from losing two aunts to cancer, her mother to pancreatic cancer, and her grandmother to a brain tumor. After graduating college in 2017, she landed a job in the Department of Neurology, where she worked as an Office Coordinator. Her most cherished moments have been helping patients and receiving countless messages of gratitude from them. Stephanie was recently promoted to Team Lead of the department where she oversees the day-to-day work of the office coordinators. Beginning in August 2019, she will be continuing her education at Seton Hall University in New Jersey to receive a Master of Healthcare Administration.

"When patients call, I know what they're about to experience. I make sure I'm their first MSK friend before they see the doctor. The patients I've encountered are so nice and thankful. They wish me and my family the best, write me the nicest emails and letters, and pray to meet me in person one day. That's confirmation of all my hard work.

"I wouldn't be the type of employee I am without my team because they're the reason I'm able to shine and be the best resource for our patients. The outcomes are scary and I'm the first person they talk to, I reassure them that they're in the best of hands.

"It's a true honor to be recognized. The reputation of MSK is remarkable and I'm inspired by my colleagues and their dedication to their patients. They are committed to learning about new treatments and what they can do as individuals and a collective department to deliver the best care.

"It's important to be surrounded by people who bring you up and the Neurology Department has become a second family to me."

Roman Maluchnik and Jill Motta describe Stephanie as a true advocate for patients. Patricia Gordon says, "There are so many examples that could be listed, but Stephanie should know she is highly appreciated, and it is a pleasure and a privilege to work with her."

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