Meredith Bannon, PA-C
In 2011, Ditty Bannon, PA-C, was among the very first hired at the newly-established oncology intensive care unit at Huntsman Cancer Hospital, a nationally-recognized cancer research hospital. It is the only oncology ICU in the state of Utah. Bannon onboarded at a time when physicians and administration weren’t sure how to fully utilize PAs in the ICU setting, but in a few short months, Bannon and her team proved just how valuable they could be.
Previously, all cancer patients were transported to medical or surgical ICUs, but there was a need to establish an oncology-specific ICU to address cancer patients’ unique needs. Bannon quickly ascended the ranks, and under her leadership the oncology ICU grew from four full-time advanced practice clinicians to 13, including nine Certified PAs and four nurse practitioners. They work around the clock to treat critically ill patients from Utah and the surrounding states of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Colorado. Bannon and her team are equipped to do it all: from endotracheal intubations to central lines to thoracentesis. Over the years, the team has grown more autonomous (a team member always carries the code pager in the hospital), and they are endowed with a high level of responsibility.
The team also supported the opening of additional beds at a sister ICU at the University of Utah Hospital. The team now functions as a “super group” in which all providers float between the oncology ICU at Huntsman and medical ICU at the University of Utah. There are also plans to hire another 5-7 PAs or NPs over the next five years.
“Our team is recognized for being highly organized and self-directed,” says Bannon. “The team has garnered an outstanding reputation among hospital physicians and administration. I credit our success to the caliber of our medical professionals who strive to deliver excellent care during every patient interaction.”
In August 2017, Bannon became the residency director of the critical care oncology group. Though she’s not working clinically full-time, she draws on years of practice and experience working in the oncology ICU where she earned praise as a skillful clinician.
“She values each person's decisions and wishes,” said colleague Lorie Hutchison, PA-C. “If a patient's goal is to stop their struggle and die with dignity and respect, she is a master at helping the family and patient through that decision. She makes every effort to ensure that the patient dies without pain or anxiety, and ensures the family is supported and understands the process.”
Bannon is passionate about end-of-life care and helping people navigate tough decisions. Because it’s normally a medical crisis if a patient ends up in the ICU, she knows patients and families are often having their hardest days, and anything she can do to ease their concerns is the most meaningful part of her job.
“It’s a very emotional, challenging job, but I’ve learned over the years how to cope with it,” she said. “I enjoy helping people have a dignified death. Families express a lot of gratitude for everything you’ve done for their family member.”
She adds, “We pay high attention to the psycho-social needs of patients and families. We pride ourselves on being goal-directed and having a holistic treatment plan for patients.”
Outside of patient care, Bannon has precepted medical students who rotated through the unit. She turned precepting into a powerful recruiting tool and hired six former students. Bannon has also developed a pulmonary lecture series for the PA students at the University of Utah.
In her new role, she plans to continue to grow the residency program to generate a staffing pipeline and to offer critical care training. A few initiatives include expanding the current residency to develop an accredited didactic curriculum for students, and hiring and training more residents then previous years.
“Part of being a good leader is leaving a legacy, and I’m glad I can mentor new leaders and still work as part of the leadership team,” she said.