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Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 - 12:48 pm

By Megan Summers

Meet Mary Shields…combining her passion for nursing & research

Mary Shields says she “loves education, so the more the better,” and she has the credentials—RN, MSN, OCN, CCRP—and career milestones to prove it.

Shields, Photo by Tom Hocker

Shields credits PUC research opportunities, flexible class scheduling for helping shape her future.Photo by Tom Hocker


As administrator for the Community Cancer Research Foundation, based in Munster, Shields’ position enables her to combine her talent and her passion.


Following graduation from Crown Point High School, Shields started her educational journey at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in preparation for a career in nursing. After completing the associate degree portion of a 2 + 2 program at West Lafayette, she opted to complete her bachelor’s degree work at Purdue Calumet, combining study and work closer to home.

While attending Purdue Calumet as a full time student, Shields was also able to put her skills to use working full time at The Community Hospital of Munster in the Intermediate Care unit.

“Going to school and working full time isn’t feasible for everyone,” she said. “But, I’ve always been motivated, and (Purdue) Calumet offered me great flexibility and convenience in terms of days and times of the different classes offered.”

Shields said she also appreciated Purdue Calumet’s unique “May-mester” program, an intense, short-term period of course work that begins immediately following the spring semester. It allowed her to earn three-credit hours in just four weeks.

She graduated from Purdue Calumet with her nursing bachelor’s degree in 1984 and was promoted to Intermediate Care Nurse Manager at Community – a position she held for several years. However, the lure of the classroom was strong, and she soon began working toward a master’s degree in nursing.

“I’ve always loved nursing, but I also have a passion for research,” she said. “I think the research I was able to do as an undergraduate added fuel to the fire.”

Again, Shields’ workload and course load were full, and the availability of evening, May-mester, summer and online courses were crucial to her success.

“The master’s program is very intense, and it was truly all I had hoped it would be,” she said, crediting Professor of Nursing Henry “Hank” Plawecki with furthering her interest in research. She cited his enthusiasm for keeping her motivated.

Shields’ master’s degree research project in 1989 dealt with cardiac catheterization. A few years later, as Nurse Manager on the Oncology Unit at Community Hospital, she also had experiences with stem cell transplants and other medical research.

These research ventures at The Community Hospital led to development of The Community Cancer Research Foundation, Inc. She has participated in the Foundation since its incorporation in 2001.

The not-for-profit organization offers area residents convenient access to the latest advances in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer. Through its work, the Foundation links patients to trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and 13 major research cooperatives in the U.S. and Canada.

“At any given time,” Shields said, “we have 30 to 35 trials going on simultaneously. We are investigating various types of cancers such as breast, lung, ovarian, colon, and lymphoma, adult leukemia and multiple myeloma, and we are evaluating treatment options.”

Her responsibilities at the Foundation include initiation, implementation and documentation of the trials; ensuring federal regulations are followed; overseeing and updating the nursing staff; communicating with physicians; budgeting; and development of feasibility studies.

One of the Foundation’s programs is the Cancer Resource Centre. The Centre helps those affected by cancer – patients and families – obtain the support and resources they need to cope with the diagnosis. Recently remodeled, the Centre provides a warm, home-like setting.

“The Centre is completely different from the research side,” Shields said, adding that when she talks to patients and family members at the Centre the human side of her science job surfaces. “I can see how much our research means, and I know that we are doing good, positive work at the Foundation in our efforts to find treatments and maybe even cures for cancer.”

Because of the opportunities Purdue Calumet has provided Shields, she feels it is important to stay connected with the university and recently joined the Purdue Calumet Alumni Board. She also is active with the State Committee for Cancer Control, serves on the nursing committee of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Program, and is a member of the local oncology Nursing Society. A mother of three daughters and an avid runner, covering 30 to 40 miles a week, Shields lives by the motto “you get out of life what you put into it.”