After nearly a decade of intensive planning and preparation, an ultra-modern cancer center recently opened its doors at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where it will help eliminate the need for patients to travel abroad for lifesaving treatment. Not only will the new facility provide much-needed care to cancer patients in the Middle East, but it will also help recruit and train a specialized team of oncology nurses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
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Modeled after Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center, home to one of the leading oncology programs in the United States, the new Fatima bint Mubarak Center is expected to provide unprecedented opportunities for UAE patients and clinicians alike. To meet the region’s growing demand for sophisticated cancer care, the center has assembled an expert team of more than 60 nurses who are uniquely prepared to manage even the most critical and complex clinical challenges.
“We’ve created the most healing environment possible, always with patients in mind. Moreover, the ambitious project has provided a unique opportunity for our nurses, who actively participated in building design, equipment selection and workflow creation,” explains Zeina Kassem, DNP, RN, Director of the center’s oncology and transplant programs.
“For the first time, the people of Abu Dhabi now have access to sophisticated cancer screening and diagnostic testing, advanced radiation treatments, and precision cellular therapies — all in one location and provided by a world-class multidisciplinary team.”
The seven-story, 205,000-square-foot facility features 32 examination rooms for multidisciplinary cancer consultations and 24 private infusion rooms for administering medications intravenously. Located around the exterior of the building, the center’s chemotherapy infusion suites provide natural light and views of the region’s surrounding islands.
In addition, the building includes two procedure rooms and an area devoted exclusively to women’s oncology services. Beyond clinical services, the facility will house critical support services intended to reduce the psychological stress that can accompany cancer treatment. In addition to providing a healing, comforting environment that includes several gardens as well as dedicated areas for meditation and prayer, the center has developed a special mentoring program designed to provide patients with confidential, one-on-one advice and support from a trained volunteer and cancer survivor.
The Abu Dhabi center also offers a Comprehensive Lifestyle Medicine Program — the first in the region to support cancer patients with the expertise of a lifestyle medicine doctor, physiotherapist, psychologist and dietitian.
“What we’re doing is here is completely novel, and none of it would be possible without the determination and leadership of nurses,” says Kassem. “Cancer programming is a relatively new concept in the UAE — a dynamic that puts our caregivers at the forefront of something truly special. It gives me goose bumps to think about the exciting new doors our center is opening, not only for patients but also for our phenomenal team of nurses.”
Importantly, the need to provide this high-level care has created a multitude of professional opportunities for nurses with a passion for oncology, notes Kassem. “Our nurses have the chance to practice in a variety of inpatient and ambulatory care settings and subspecialties from infusion therapy to radiation oncology to bone marrow transplant.
We also encourage our caregivers to pursue opportunities in nursing leadership, patient education, case management and many other areas,” she says.
To meet the region’s growing demand for high-caliber cancer services, hospital leaders created a new nursing position focused on standardizing care across all oncology service lines. These oncology
nursing coordinators work closely within a certain disease group to guide patients through the duration of their cancer journey. Nowhere else in the UAE do nurses have the “privilege of connecting with cancer patients at the beginning of their journey — when their anxiety is at its peak – and supporting them from the moment they call to schedule an appointment to when treatment ends,” says Kassem.
“Our nursing coordinators are there through every step of a patient’s care, from performing assessments and administering therapies to educating patients and their families,” she explains. “And just as our patients emerge on the other side of their journey, so do our nurses — having been exposed to countless learning experiences along the way.”
After nearly a year of intensive preparation and training, oncologists at the Fatima bint Mubarak Center recently performed the UAE’s first bone marrow transplant (BMT). In anticipation of the procedure, the center recruited several nurses with prior BMT experience and identified a small internal group of nurses who had the desire to learn more about the procedure. Kassem says that educating UAE clinicians on new treatment protocols and clinical developments — a process she calls “upscaling” — encourages professional growth and satisfaction.
Stephen Grobmyer, MD, Chair of the oncology center at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, explains that the center is especially committed to increasing access to clinical trials, developing novel therapies, and focusing on untapped areas of research such as understanding the causes of and managing the side effects of cancer treatments as well as preventing and treating young-onset cancers. Precision oncology, which enables clinicians to provide specific care based on a particular patient’s genetic makeup, and CAR T-cell therapy are other areas of projected growth.
“By virtue of their deep connection to patients, nurses are critical drivers of change and innovation in healthcare,” says Dr. Grobmyer. “Just as we aim to provide our patients with choices, we also encourage our nurses to explore the many avenues available to cancer caregivers.”
Kassem adds, “Our patients are enormously grateful to have a world-class oncology center so close to home — and our nurses are equally thankful to play such a meaningful role in their care. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of such a beautiful place, where we work together as a team of teams to provide the most advanced and compassionate care possible.”