Tumor registrar Maxine Morgan, right, and radiation oncologist Deborah Phelps look over cancer data at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle’s Cancer Center on Friday. Morgan has collected data on diagnosis and treatment for every cancer patient who has gone through Baptist since 2006, and sends that data to the Mississippi Cancer Registry for further research into the disease. Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
January 20, 2020 11:17:25 AM
Maxine Glenn Morgan knows every cancer patient who has visited Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle since 2006, though most of them have never met her.
The Columbus native is the sixth of eight children, a stepmother and fan of gardening, cooking and Mississippi State sports. She also has worked at Baptist in one capacity or another for almost 40 years, most recently as the tumor registrar for the hospital's cancer center -- meaning she is the one who receives all the data on diagnosis and treatment for each cancer patient.
State and federal laws require hospitals keep a database of information on cancer cases and send them to the Mississippi Cancer Registry in Jackson. That information is then turned over to a national registry that uses it for research.
For Morgan, that means collecting information on between 550 and 600 new patients each year, plus keeping up with additional information on returning patients. She consults with doctors and records all diagnostic information, such as the type and stage of each cancer case, as well as information on surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and other types of therapy. At the end of six months collecting data on a patient, she sends that data to the state registry.
It was certainly never a position Morgan expected to take when she enrolled at Mississippi University for Women's nursing program back in the late 1970s, but it didn't take long for her to realize nursing wasn't for her. She was attracted instead to the business aspect of medicine.
"It seems like I was destined for healthcare," she said.
Upon learning Baptist would pay for students to attend East Mississippi Community College's nursing assistant program, she applied to be a nursing assistant at Baptist while simultaneously receive more training from EMCC. Within a few months, she was hired as the director of nursing's secretary, a position she kept for more than 20 years -- the majority of her career -- until February 2006, when the hospital's tumor registrar approached her about taking over the registry.
"We didn't even know each other," Morgan said. "We just happened upon each other one day and she said, 'I'm leaving. Would you be interested in applying for my job?' I said, 'What is your job? I've never heard of the tumor registry before.'"
Morgan has found the tumor registrar position more challenging than working as a secretary, partially because it involves constant training.
"The face of cancer is changing so rapidly," she said. "And the treatment of cancer is changing so rapidly."
One of her favorite parts of the job comes with her seat on the hospital's cancer committee, where twice a month she organizes tumor conferences with radiologists, medical oncologists, residents and other doctors who work with cancer patients. Each month, those doctors choose a patient for Morgan to put together a history based on the data she's collected. The board of doctors -- called the tumor board -- then meets to come up with an interdisciplinary approach for how to treat that patient.
"They choose interesting cases or cases that are challenging, and we sit down as a group ... and come up with a plan of care," Morgan said. "I think it is just one of those things that people may not be aware of, that you get this specialized plan of care that is formed by this group of physicians.
"We learn a lot about medicine and about the different drugs that are being used to treat patients, learn about how to interpret the radiology portion of the scans that they're showing," she added. "... It's really interesting that you can sit in on something like this and see the physicians working to improve the patients' care."
Over the years, she's seen how the diagnosis and care of cancer has changed. She can tell you which types of cancer have become more common at Baptist, and that treatment has been slowly moving away from chemotherapy toward immunotherapy, which activates the immune system. It's also moved to a more individualized path of care looking at the patient, rather than the disease, she said.
But her favorite part, she said, is getting to know the doctors and nurses who work with patients every day.
"I get to work with a lot of smart people," Morgan said. "Just by sitting under our doctors, I get to learn from them."
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