Saving Lives Before Lunch: A Virtual Nurse’s Remarkable Journey

From being on the brink of burnout to leading a team of virtual care nurses, a special patient encounter reignited Rhonda Taft’s passion for nursing.

Read Time: 4 minutes

Rhonda Taft, RN, OCN, had been a practicing oncology nurse for nearly 20 years when COVID-19 hit. Faced with unprecedented levels of stress and burnout, coupled with managing additional administrative tasks, she found she had increasingly less time to pursue her passion of caring for patients.

“I was losing my passion for nursing, losing some of that joy in my job,” Rhonda says. “I was really thinking maybe it is time for me to leave nursing.”

Texas Oncology, which is part of The US Oncology Network – a network of community-based oncology practices supported by McKesson – had also felt the impact of a historic nurse shortage because of the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons why they established a new virtual care team in 2022. The team fills care gaps by extending community-based care to patients anywhere across the Texas Oncology network, making a variety of specialized services, like telemedicine visits with nurses and advanced practice providers, accessible from the comfort of home. It also allows oncology nurses to practice from anywhere while continuing to focus on providing patient-focused care.

When Rhonda learned about the new team, she knew it was just the career break she needed.

In June of 2023, Rhonda transitioned from her role as an in-person oncology nurse at one of Texas Oncology’s community practices to a virtual care triage nurse.

Triage nurses are dedicate to patient support and are there to promptly address patients' symptom management calls.

Only a few months later, Rhonda realized how much of an impact she can have in her patients’ lives while working from home.

After receiving a call through the nurse triage line and conducting a thorough assessment, Rhonda intuitively knew something wasn’t right with her oncology patient. She urged the patient to seek immediate medical attention, coordinating their journey to the emergency room while alerting the hospital oncologist of the situation. Little did they know this swift action – and Rhonda’s timely intervention – would prove to be pivotal. Upon arrival at the ER, the patient suffered a life-threatening condition with a mere 20% survival rate.

Miraculously, after several days in the hospital, the patient was able to recover and return home in time for Christmas.

For Rhonda, the patient’s recovery served as a poignant reminder of why she chose nursing in the first place. It reaffirmed her belief in the power of compassion, intuition, and unwavering dedication to patient care. As she continues to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, Rhonda remains steadfast in her commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of those she serves.

“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be working from home, taking calls and taking care of patients remotely, I would have said ‘there is no way I could do that as a nurse,’” Rhonda said. “It never seemed possible to have this work-life balance and still use the nursing skills that I fell in love with from the very beginning.”

Rhonda has since been promoted and now serves as a triage nurse supervisor, helping oversee a team of 16 nurses that cover all Texas Oncology clinics within the Austin region. , she says she has discovered a renewed sense of purpose.

“I might not be getting that physical contact and presence with my patients, but I have my voice to give,” Rhonda said. “I tell my patients that I am here. I’m just a phone call away.”