45 Minutes with Marlon Saria and Leorey Saligan: New Filipino FAANs

By Jerome Babate /Joseph Andrew Pepito

In 2014, three Filipino nurses were inducted to the prestigious American Academy of Nursing (AAN). They have since joined more than 2,200 nurse leaders in education, management, practice, policy, and research from across the globe.

Joining us in this conversation are new Filipino AAN fellows: Marlon Garzo Saria and Leorey Saligan.

Marlon is an Advanced Practice Research Nurse at the Center for Translational Neuro-Oncology,
Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego. He is a 1998 BS Nursing graduate of the University of the Philippines’ College of Nursing and his MSN at UCLA in 2004 while Leorey Saligan is a Principal Investigator Symptom Management Branch Division of Intramural Research at the US National Institute of Health. He is an alumnus of Liceo de Cagayan University for his BS Nursing. Leorey received his Ph.D. in Nursing from Hampton University.

You were recently inducted into the American Academy of Nursing. What opportunities has this opened up for you and the Filipino nurses in America?

LS: Being inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) is surely the highlight of my career. It is inspiring considering that there are only 16 extraordinary nurses of Filipino descent that have been recognized by the Academy. Three of these 16 Filipino nurses were inducted last year, affirming that the hard work and the quality of work that Filipino nurses produce are being recognized as exemplary, by their peers. This recognition opened a multitude of opportunities for me in terms of interdisciplinary collaborations and driving policy to advance symptom science. More importantly, it allowed me with opportunities to spread the good news all over the world, across disciplines, that nursing is ready for primetime in conducting translational research that incorporates genomic and proteomic approaches to further our science, to improve the quality of lives of our patients. Currently, my research program offers opportunities for mentorship for students from all around the world from different disciplines to give these students a perspective of what nursing research is. I also recently co-authored a paper on the results of a survey on Filipino-American nurses' knowledge, perceptions, beliefs and practice of genetics and genomics that will be published in the upcoming Philippine Journal of Nursing, volume 84, no.2. This paper is part of my campaign to give back to the Filipino community by enhancing their knowledge about genomics and genetics. The increasing demand placed on nurses to incorporate genetic and genomic information into their clinical practice is an immediate challenge, considering that a number of Filipino nurses are not familiar with these concepts and are unprepared to handle these types of information to efficiently assist their patients to make informed health care decisions. Providing resources that can assist nurses to start learning about these concepts, would propel them to better provide quality nursing care.

MS: First of all, please allow me to thank you (Jerome) for this opportunity to share my experience as a global Pinoy nurse in America.  For me, earning the title “nurse” is the outcome of the choices we make. Life is full of hard choices, and the bigger they are and the more options we have, the harder they get. My career as a nurse was not dictated by the one-time decision I made in college. It is the product of the everyday choices I make… as a student, a staff nurse, an advanced practice nurse, a volunteer, and a leader.

Nursing, just like any other profession, can be hard. But nothing can be harder than not having a choice, as in the case of the patients that we swore, under oath, to protect and heal. Our patients have no choice but to seek our help. They come to us for a reason. On the other hand, we, as nurses have a choice. We can choose to assume the responsibility of caring for them or we can chose to let others take that responsibility and find another career.  Many of us chose the former. We choose to report for our shift. We choose to stay for our shift. Professionally, we choose to be competent in our practice. We choose to be adult learners. We choose to further our degrees. Everyday, we choose to be nurses!

Likewise, my induction as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing is neither the consequence of a single event nor the result of independent circumstances that emerge as I practice my profession. It is not the product of ambitious programs and grandiose projects but of little acts, minor decisions, and many seemingly insignificant choices that taken together make a whole world of differ.

The handful of Filipino nurses inducted as Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing have secured a prominent place in the hierarchy of nursing for the country of our birth. Many of us regard Academy fellowship as an accolade for the professional accomplishments we have achieved. Until my induction in October of 2014, I was one of those nurses who have held on to this belief. The privilege of getting to know my fellow inductees and the rest of the Fellows of the Academy changed my perception on what being a Fellow really means. It is a humbling feeling that the recognition bestowed upon me by my colleagues comes with a huge responsibility. I now know that I am held to a higher standard and that my colleagues and the public that we serve have higher expectations from me. Being inducted as a fellow is being challenged to do more, to give more, to make a more sustainable difference in my profession and in the healthcare industry. Having created a path to fellowship, Filipino Fellows of the Academy now have a better chance of inviting our Filipino nursing colleagues to share in the work of advancing the profession.

Academy membership comes with a multitude of opportunities. There is now a higher chance of being invited to the policy table where we can use our voices to advocate for our patients and the nurses we work with. As staff nurses, we can make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. As advanced practice nurses and researchers, we can make a difference in patient populations, classified by geographic area or disease of interest.  As healthcare policy advocates, we can make a difference in the health of the nation. To borrow a line from the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Emperor of All Maladies, “A disease needed to be transformed politically before it could be transformed scientifically.”

What are some exciting developments in your research field?

LS: There are a number of exciting new findings that have come out from my laboratory. Since obtaining a US patent on the biomarkers of cancer-related fatigue, we have utilized our genomic and proteomic findings in developing clinical trials using pharmacological agents and self-care management, including exercise to test whether targeting specific biomarkers or physiologic pathways can reduce debilitating fatigue following cancer treatment. Since we are determined to understand the biologic mechanisms behind intensification of fatigue and why it persists, the results from these investigations will be relevant to cancer patients, as well as to other individuals with chronic illness suffering from this distressing symptom, considering that this symptom is very common even to healthy individuals, including nurses. Wouldn’t it be a breakthrough if we can find a medicine that can rapidly provide relief from fatigue, similar to the effects of narcotics to acute pain or an antiemetic to nausea? We are looking forward with a lot of excitement to a productive 2015. If you are interested to learn about what we do, a more comprehensive description of my work is described in this National Institutes of Health page: http://irp.nih.gov/pi/leorey-saligan

MS: We may not have the cure but we are one step closer to it. Compared to where we were just a mere decade ago, we now have elucidated mechanisms of cancer growth and metastasis. We have identified receptors and developed molecules that can better target the receptors. Many of the drugs in develop belong to a different class of drugs that does not have the toxicities of the traditional chemotherapy that we have learned to know so well. We have found ways to prevent cancer, either through lifestyle changes or by administering vaccines that greatly reduce our chances of acquiring cancer. Our nurse scientists have found innovative ways of reducing and managing toxicities. More importantly, we have learned to treat the person as a whole rather than by the different organs and systems that make up the person. Change will not happen overnight but with the will power, dedication, and resolve of our multidisciplinary healthcare team, we will find ourselves closer to ridding the world of this menacing disease we call cancer.