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Cathy Sivak,

You were a first responder at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. What impact did your involvement have on your outlook and career?

It was very amazing to me that on the biggest day of death and destruction in American history, the first nurse to get to Ground Zero was a palliative care nurse. My role there that day was not only about trying to save lives, but it was also about honoring and support of death and grief right on site and providing support for the aftermath of death in the community.

The impact showed me there is no such thing as a limitation in your career. In our culture and society of terrorists, of mass casualty, mass death, tragedy, the palliative care nurse is always instrumental. It’s powerful to stand on the biggest gravesite in human history, Ground Zero, not only trying to bring what is left home to mourn, but also supporting those who are the messengers. That’s looking death in the face and saying, “I can help.” We had to support a nation in mass grieving; who else would understand that but a palliative care nurse?

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Your outreach to the nursing/healthcare profession and to the general public through lectures, presentations and article publication is extensive. What drives your involvement in such efforts? What messages do you offer?

I believe in public service and have served extensively as a guest speaker for high school health topics, at university level allied health careers, and at advanced directive healthcare planning workshops for senior citizens.

Over the course of your schooling and career, you have received numerous awards and honors. What does such recognition mean to you on a professional and personal level?

The recognition and the honor goes to the people who taught me. The greatest teachers are the patients throughout the years. I am nothing without the patients and people that supported me to bring me here, I am not acting alone. I can be the messenger, I can be the vessel, but I’m honoring them.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment thus far in your career?

When I think about this, I see it as two fold of accomplishment and opportunity. I originally assessed Bon Secours palliative care physicians’ education for palliative and holistic care and found they had none.

On behalf of Bon Secours, I attended an American Board of Holistic Medicine conference and an integrative holistic medical professional review course to create a partner initiative to tap into a grant opportunity to launch a pilot of the first integrative palliative education for physicians throughout Bon Secours palliative care services.

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