PROFESSIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Marlon Saria, PhD, RN Cares for the ‘Other Patient’
by Zara Jethani
A nursing graduate from University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, Marlon Garzo Saria, PhD, RN, thought he would stay and work in the Philippines after he got his Bachelor of Nursing degree. But fate had a different plan for him and instead, he found himself in the United States.
“My paternal grandfather, a World War II veteran, initiated the process by filing the petition for my father in 1986. Our family immigrated in September 1998 and settled in San Diego, California,” Dr. Saria explains.
He may still have a soft spot for the Philippines, but his contributions to brain cancer research and providing quality care for caregivers of cancer patients are invaluable regardless of where he works. Currently, he is assistant professor and advanced practice registered nurse and director of the Center for Quality Outcomes and Research (CQOR) in the Department of Translational Neurosciences and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center and Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California.
‘We do not have a position for you’
Four months after entering the US, in January 1999, Saria was able to take the Nursing Board State Examination. He passed the examination and received his license a few months later. He applied to all the acute care facilities in San Diego. However, the responses he received were similar: “Regrettably, we do not have a position for you at this time. Please contact us again when you have gained more experience.”
Despite this, he did not lose hope. He continued applying for nursing jobs until he was referred by a family friend to a Navy recruiter and got scheduled to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). When the results came back, the recruiter told Saria that he had been accepted.
Around the same time, Saria was contemplating his options when a fellow participant in a therapy certification course he was taking mentioned “The U,” which is the University of California in San Diego. He went to the human resources office at UC San Diego and applied. After the interview, Saria was offered a position in a new graduate program and so withdrew his application to the Navy. Then a little over 5 years ago, Saria was invited by a colleague from UCSD to try Air Force nursing. Dr. Saria currently serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Nurse Corps as a Flight Commander for nursing operations and co-officer-in-charge for awards and decorations and the centralized credentials quality assurance system.
A nursing scientist
Saria worked with Dr. Santosh Kesari, a renowned scientist who is working to deliver the cure for cancer. In the early stages of a clinical trial program, Saria assisted in developing and implementing research protocols. After his PhD, Saria became the director of the Center for Quality and Outcomes Research. He is now developing research and clinical programs focused on reducing the suffering of cancer patients and improving the quality of life both for patients and their family caregivers. He says the team is developing a caregiver clinical program that will provide an individualized plan of care for caregivers, including respite for caregivers, supplemental services, and interventions to reduce burden and improve health, termed “precision caring.”
“When I was trying to recruit a caregiver to participate in my research, I told her that caregivers are like jugglers–working hard to keep balls, clubs, or rings up in the air. These represent young children, jobs, housework, schools, older parents, and other tasks. When I said that caregivers always drop the ball on ‘self-care’ first (they take care of everyone first and always put themselves last), she said that I was wrong. The ‘self-care’ ball does not even get picked up in the first place. That was a profound message that validated the research and the development of programs to address this,” Saria narrates.
“Caregivers are the ‘other patients.’ They are often neglected and some caregivers look worse than the patients,” Saria explains. As a scientist, he is not confined to an 8-hour job. Saria’s work does not start and end with a time clock. “Some days are better than others, but the one fact that is part of a scientist’s work is that the work is never done. We always have to look ahead to the next grant application, the next study, the next publication… all so that we could help the next patient,” Saria explains.
Yet, his focus is not always on clinical research. When Dr. Saria became the president of Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) San Diego, he prioritized the establishment of a sustainable funding mechanism for global disaster response and relief. Three weeks later, Typhoon Haiyan devastated Leyte. Through PNA, he personally delivered financial assistance to 27 families devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. The fundraising efforts continue to this day to sustain the program for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
Saria has an appointment as faculty for the University of the Philippines Open University and is also a visiting research scholar at Chiba University, Japan. He often travels to the Philippines and will return to Manila in October 2017 with physicians from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and another nurse from the Oncology Nursing Society to share their expertise with Filipino physicians and nurses.
His dedication to research was noticed by the scientific and academic communities. He was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by UP. The American Cancer Society awarded him a doctoral fellowship and he also received the Pearl Moore Award. In 2014, he was inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing and he was honored with a lifetime achievement by the Global Caring Nurses Foundation.
Adapted from the original article published June 22, 2017 on Inquirer.net.
About the Author
is the marketing director at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Her background is in molecular genetics research and healthcare marketing. In addition, she is a graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the healthcare, education and entertainment industries.
Last updated: September 9th, 2019