Get to Know Lucienne McKinney

Oct. 6, 2017

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Coffee. Emails. Calls. Documentation. Coffee. Emails. Coffee. Calls. Documentation. Calls. Emails. Emails. Coffee. Emails.

When asked what a typical day is like for Lucienne McKinney, that’s the brief summary, and while technically accurate, it entirely misses the heart and soul of both the Lung Screening Program coordinator’s job and the woman herself.

A radiology technologist by training with specialization in CT, Lucienne now helps patients navigate the process of being screened for lung cancer.

“It can be scary,” she says. “There’s so much fear, not only of possibly having cancer, but also of being judged for smoking. I want patients to be informed. My goal is to understand rather than judge. I am here to walk with them through the process.”

When a patient is referred by their physician for screening, or when a patient responds to a Facebook ad or queries from the program’s page on the Emory Healthcare website, Lucienne immediately connects with the patient, providing education about the risks and benefits of screening, explaining what screening involves, and discussing potential outcomes and next steps.

“I like having the time to get to know each patient and their concerns about lung cancer risks,” she explains. “It’s very rewarding to make our large healthcare system seem smaller and personal.”

Lucienne follows up each call with an email through the Emory Patient Portal summarizing what they talked about and providing her contact information. Once patients receive the results of their CT imaging studies, Lucienne walks them through the findings and answers questions about what their physicians suggest as next steps. Drawn by her warmth and genuine concern, patients sometimes turn to Lucienne for even more support.

“One of my patients was very apprehensive and concerned after screening suggested the need for a biopsy. He asked me to come with him to the pulmonologist visit prior to having the biopsy. He was afraid he wouldn’t ask the right questions and he wanted me there to make sure he got the information he needed. He said I talked on his level and I understood him so he trusted me.”

The patient received good news following his biopsy but his risk factors mean he’s being closely watched. “We maintain a good relationship,” Lucienne says, not bragging, but, rather, with a sense of wonder. “Being able to walk through the fear with a patient is quite extraordinary. It's very rewarding to provide that kind of care.”

Health care runs in Lucienne’s family. “My mother was an oncology nurse. When I did career research in high school, I was attracted to the fast pace of the health care environment and the growth potential radiology provided, from learning new modalities to taking on leadership roles.”

Lucienne earned her RT credentials in a hospital-based training program in Danbury, Connecticut in 1994. She planned to specialize in interventional radiology, but an opportunity to cross-train in CT while working in emergency diagnostic radiology changed that. “I absolutely loved scanning from day one,” she says. “I loved the fast-paced environment of the ER, being the first to see patients and helping to diagnose traumatic injury through imaging.”

She came to Emory in 2003 as an outpatient CT technologist and worked her way into a supervisory role. In 2014, she enjoyed the unique opportunity to work from home for a while as an independent contractor doing post processing and quantitative analysis of coronary CTA images for a research project. She loved the work but when the opportunity arose to return to Emory, she seized it.

She returned to Emory in March 2016 to coordinate Emory’s new lung screening program. “What initially drew me to Emory was the reputation of being the innovative leader in healthcare. What brought me back and keeps me today are the people and opportunities!”

To help prepare her for her new responsibilities, she completed the Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification program of the University of Colorado. Over the next year, in collaboration with Willie Arnold, Emory Radiology’s administrator for clinic operations, Lucienne created guidelines for patient education and care follow-through in compliance with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations, and worked to standardize CT lung imaging protocols across the Emory enterprise. From her office in the Winship Cancer Institute building, Lucienne is responsible for ensuring Emory reports all findings from screenings, typically 25-30 each month across Emory Healthcare, to CMS. Since November 2016, the program has completed more than 200 screenings.

Lucienne’s role recently expanded to include CT colonography and she is beginning work on standardizing the process for CT calcium score exams throughout the system. While the work requires technical expertise and a love of process, Lucienne most appreciates the opportunity the work provides to enhance the patient experience and improve quality of care.

“We all go in thinking we want to provide what we think should be provided, the kind of service we would want,” but that, she explains, is not the way to deliver excellence. “What matters is what the customer wants and expects. Whether you are serving an internal or external customer, it is essential to build a relationship, even a small personal connection, so that you can better understand that person’s unique needs.  Once you are equipped with that knowledge you have the opportunity to provide that excellent experience. Even those small connections help build common ground and help you understand where they are coming from and what they expect from the encounter. I know from firsthand experience what it’s like when that’s missing.”

Lucienne pauses. She says she’s concerned about burdening someone else with her own painful epiphany. The pause itself proves her extraordinary focus on meeting the needs of others.

While working independently between 2014 and 2016, the surprising news of a fourth child on the way brought joy…until the baby was diagnosed with a life-limiting chromosomal abnormality.

Having to endure perfunctory medical treatment from providers devoid of empathy, and being outside of the familiar Emory system was “eye-opening,” she says.

“It reshaped my view of the patient and family approach to healthcare and has made me much more intentional with my interactions with patients as well as with the way I approach co-workers. Sometimes life experiences, no matter how difficult, can be your best teacher.”

And often, those difficult life experiences make compassionate clinicians the best teachers, too.  This year, Lucienne joins Harold Glenn, Jr., clinical business manager, and Laura Benson, manager for clinic operations, “department superstars,” she calls them, as a planner and instructor for the newly retooled Service Excellence Institute. “It’s a really neat departure from my every day routine. Getting to know people is awesome,” she says.

She’s right. It’s awesome getting to know Lucienne McKinney, the woman who turned an ocean of grief into a sky full of stars. ■