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Meet Our New Faculty: Lauren Ghazal Speaks Up for Adolescent, Young Adult Cancer Survivors

  By Gianluca D'Elia
  Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A few years ago, when Assistant Professor Lauren Ghazal, PhD, FNP-BC was starting her PhD, her nursing career was on a track that made sense to her. She was utilizing her health care experience and first bachelor’s degree in economics to study global nursing workforce issues, maintaining clinical practice as a family nurse practitioner, and saying “yes” to new opportunities.

Life had other plans: a few months into her PhD program at New York University, Ghazal was diagnosed with stage-two Hodgkin lymphoma. Her personal experiences and thoughts about navigating a cancer diagnosis as a young adult soon turned into research questions, changing the focus of her PhD research, and the rest of her nursing career along with it.

Now, as one of the University of Rochester School of Nursing’s newest faculty members, Ghazal is working to expand adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer studies at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

Her research interests sit at the intersection of both her personal and professional experiences in cancer care, nursing and economics. She focuses on the cancer survivorship needs of AYAs, with a focus on financial toxicity among this age group.

“Those are all perspectives that I bring to my work, and that I value and take time to listen to,” Ghazal said. “That has allowed me to disseminate my work in an innovative way that sets me apart.”

At URMC, Ghazal will also maintain a faculty affiliation with the Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Cancer Prevention and Control research group.

“Our generation of assistant professors is pushing boundaries in a good way, and that’s something I really value at the University of Rochester,” she added. “There are groundbreaking researchers doing great science here, in ways that haven’t been done before. I’m excited to learn from my colleagues, and to know that we have the people and infrastructure here to move AYA research forward.”

Like many School of Nursing students, alumni, and faculty who entered nursing as a new career and brought diverse life experiences with them, Ghazal’s path to nursing was not necessarily straightforward either. As an economics major, she initially thought she would become a lawyer one day. A semester abroad in Greece exposed Ghazal to a different country’s health care system for the first time, and led her to consider how she could bring an economics approach to health care. Encouragement and support from her mother, a fellow nurse, also helped guide her to this career path.

By the time her senior year of college came around, Ghazal was taking prerequisite courses so she could start an accelerated nursing degree at Regis College in Massachusetts. Later on, after earning her PhD in Nursing Research at NYU, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer care and delivery research at the University of Michigan.

Rochester wasn’t initially on Ghazal’s radar, she said. But a conversation with Assistant Professor Meghan Underhill-Blazey, PhD, APRN, AOCNS at one of the Oncology Nursing Society’s Capitol Hill Days helped her realize that the University had everything she was looking for.

“I wanted to be affiliated with a medical center and a cancer institute, to have a strong school of nursing that supports students from undergrad all the way to doctoral studies, and to have a focus on cancer survivorship,” Ghazal said. “That was all there at UR.”

In addition to collaborating with new Rochester colleagues, Ghazal looks forward to bringing connections with her from past institutions.

“AYA researchers are a collaborative community, and in the end, we want to improve the health and quality of life of adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer,” Ghazal said. “The more organizations that support that and have it as part of their mission, the more we can help this population.”

Outside of her professional activities, Ghazal enjoys musical theatre, and looks forward to supporting the performing arts scene in Rochester. She grew up in Rhode Island, loves lobsters and steamers, and is proud of her family’s Lebanese and Syrian heritage.

Learn more about the Rochester Oncology Nursing Research group.

Categories: Research

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