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Samantha Wagner: Nurse helps patients battle cancer

From the 2022 Nurses Honorees series
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As an Oncology Certified Nurse at Sanford Health, Samantha Wagner helps her patients overcome their fears of cancer. But before becoming a nurse, she had to battle her own doubts about her career path.

“Being a nurse was never something I thought I could do,” said Wagner, a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. “I knew I wanted to work in the field of medicine, but I thought nursing was too much.”

Wagner became interested in nursing while attending Mandan High School.

“I took a health careers class, and I had the best teacher, Mrs. Paulette Klein. She was a nurse that chose to go into teaching. There was something about her caring and compassionate nature that made me feel 'at home.' She was the one that encouraged me to pursue my dreams and get a start in the medical field,” Wagner said.

Wagner, 31, worked as a certified nursing assistant on the oncology floor in high school and graduated from the University of Mary School of Nursing in 2015. She spent the first three years of her career at Trinity Health in Minot before returning to her hometown of Mandan. She was hired by Sanford Health in 2018 and began working at the Oncology Clinic where she is currently the clinical care leader. As an oncology nurse, Wagner is very involved in her patients’ cancer journeys.

“I have a special bond with our patients and their families. Cancer is scary and powerful. There is no greater honor than getting to help a patient fight for their life,” Wagner said.

One of Wagner’s cancer patients nominated her for The Bismarck Tribune’s 2022 “Nurses: The Heart of Health Care,” award. Wagner was selected by a panel of judges for the honor.

“Most of her patients are going through a very difficult time and she is the perfect person for us. She is compassionate, calm and senses our needs. She has a heart of gold and wisdom of a sage,” said Joan Johnson, Wagner’s patient.

Wagner said, “I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to wake up and come to work. It never feels like work for me. It’s a place I get to go to spend time with friends and hang out with some of the bravest people I know.”

During the pandemic, oncology nurses helped their patients battle additional uncertainties.

“We have patients that would fear going to see their kids or grandkids and we had to try to ease that fear but also let them know that their fear is justified,” Wagner said. “We have the 'high risk' and immunocompromised population, so education has been a huge part of my job during the pandemic. Giving unbiased information about vaccinations has been a main goal for me.”

Making sure her patients don’t feel alone has been one of Wagner’s greatest ambitions.

“It’s laughing with them during the happy times and crying with them during the sad times. It’s being that rock for someone when they are scared and they don’t know what to do. That’s when we tell them to lean on us and let us fight with them. Being a nurse is more than a job for me, it is what gives me purpose and fulfills my life,” Wagner said.

Wagner enjoys spending time with her husband, Blake, and their two young children, Jessa, 4, and Eden, 7 months, and hiking at her grandparents’ farm. She is also an assistant competitive gymnastics coach at Dakota Star Gymnastics.

“It’s laughing with them during the happy times and crying with them during the sad times. It’s being that rock for someone when they are scared.... Being a nurse is more than a job for me, it is what gives me purpose and fulfills my life.”

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