Doing What’s Right for Her Cancer Patients, Daughters and Those in Need

Loyda Braithwaite

APP Champion: Loyda Braithwaite, MSN, RN, AGPCNP-BC, AOCNP, Oncology, University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

For Loyda, providing the best cancer care for her patients, empowering her daughters and giving back to those in need all boil down to doing what’s right as a professional.

Like many nurse practitioners, Loyda had a desire to work in healthcare since childhood. But her story has a different beginning than those of her colleagues. Loyda was born and raised in a small town in Panama. After high school, she moved to Panama City, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at the University of Panama and practiced there for a few years. She says her interest in cancer care began early in her undergraduate nursing studies when she had clinical practice at the Panamanian National Oncologic Institute.

“I was inspired by one of my professors who was the only oncology-specialized nurse in Panama at the time,” Loyda says. “Since that experience, I knew oncology was my calling. This passion inspired my intensive pursuit of knowledge and motivated my development in nursing.”

Several years after establishing her nursing practice in Panama City, she met her now husband, who was an American Peace Corps volunteer serving in Panama. They fell in love and after dating for a few years, moved to the United States in 2009. “I didn’t know any English at that time,” she says. “With dedication and persistence, I learned English, obtained my nursing license in the United States and began practicing as a registered nurse in 2010.”

Loyda’s drive to succeed didn’t stop there. She continued her education and earned a Master of Science degree in Nursing at Loyola University Chicago in 2015, specializing in oncology. She then began her new role as an oncology nurse practitioner at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, and since 2018, has sub-specialized in the treatment and management of patients with breast cancer.

“In addition to my clinical practices, I wanted to make a larger impact for my patients, colleagues and the profession. This led me to pursue a doctoral education. I am currently a PhD student in the UW-Madison School of Nursing. As a future nurse scientist, I want to focus my research on cancer health needs in minority populations.”

When asked to describe her co-workers at UW Health, she says the nurses and physicians are the most knowledgeable people she knows. “They go the extra mile for every patient. From bedside nursing to advanced care coordination, the professionals at our cancer center are committed to providing the best care possible for every patient and their families.”

Outside of work, Loyda says her most proud accomplishment is her family. “My husband, Brandon, and I have two daughters, Ayla (7) and Hahmi (4). My mom, Esther, also lives with us here in the States. We continue to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and honestly, working together to raise our children in a bilingual and multicultural family makes me proud every day. I hope my experience can empower my daughters to follow their dreams, because succeeding as a woman, person of color and immigrant is never easy. My family has been and will always be my greatest source of support and inspiration to do what I do.”

In addition to clinical and academic work, Loyda is involved in a variety of volunteer activities ranging from direct patient care to formal education for healthcare professionals. She has returned to Panama three times over the years to assist in orthopedic surgeries. She also helped develop and conduct an educational program for oncology nurses in Honduras, in collaboration with Health Volunteer Overseas (HVO) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). She provided rural general practice care in the Dominican Republic and volunteered with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and ASCO to provide oncology nursing education in Colombia and Ghana. Loyda is also a member of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation’s (ONCC) committee that evaluates the learning needs for the oncology nurse practitioners’ national certification test.

Locally, she volunteers as a co-facilitator for a Hispanic breast cancer support group at the Catholic Multicultural Center, a social services agency in Madison assisting people in need. “COVID-19 has delayed us from meeting, but this community gathering has been the only Spanish-speaking breast cancer support group in Dane County. I look forward to the day we can safely resume our monthly meetings.”

When asked to recall moments that inspired her, she says it’s hard to narrow down because there are so many. “I enjoy and celebrate the happy moments with our patients and families,” she says. “Other times it is more difficult, particularly when patients are nearing end of life. Conversations are tough and many times there are tears of both joy and sadness. Sometimes there are physical symptoms to be managed, sometimes there are emotional ones to be healed, but the purpose of my work is to make their journey more manageable. When I hear a patient thank me for the care they have received, it’s rewarding and reassuring. Also, providing care to my Spanish-speaking patients in their own language is priceless. All of these are daily reminders that I have chosen the right profession.”

Loyda says her patients teach her humility at its best. “I think I’ve learned it’s always best to meet patients where they are. It’s never where I think they should be. No matter what I think I know, I always need to listen to my patients first. That’s very important to me as a professional.”