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University employee celebrates milestone

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | FEBRUARY 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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Forty years ago, each Cambus had a smiley face, empty lots and temporary buildings defined downtown Iowa City during urban renewal, and the concept of a “smart phone” remained firmly in the realm of science fiction. However, one thing has remained constant between then and now: the presence of Julie Risinger at the University of Iowa.

Risinger is a cancer registrar for the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. She collects data about cancer patients and performs lifetime follow-ups on them. The UI Staff Council recognized her in November 2013 for 40 years of service to the university — the only person awarded that distinction that month.

“When I first started here, there was no such thing as a cancer registrar,” she said, noting she was hired at the university as a medical-records clerk before the Cancer Center existed. “Now, there’s formal training and certification for registrars.”

She took the first registrar exam in 1982.

Risinger described the transformation of her job as one that once took reams of paper but is now driven by digital technology, echoing the process that has lifted smart phones from science fiction to every students’, and doctors’, pockets.

“It always offers something new,” Risinger said. “It’s a very exciting job. It’s always changing.”

Program supervisor Tania Viet, who has worked with Risinger since 2003, appreciates the stability she provides in the workplace.

“We all look up to Julie as a mentor,” Viet said. “You could always come to her and talk to her about personal things. Work-wise, she was always somebody to look up to and try to achieve the things that she has done.

Viet, who has taken on an administrative role the past few years, said she greatly values Risinger’s presence on her team.

“You can count on her to do anything,” she said. “She’s always willing to do whatever she can to get the job done … Everyone here in the office looks to her for answers.”

Deb Schulte, with whom Risinger worked for a quarter of a century, spoke of her in a similar light.

“We started working together when you could still smoke at your desk,” Schulte said. “She adapts to change well. She doesn’t let it stop her from being a dedicated worker.”

One particular memory from her decades of experience sticks out to Risinger. She sends yearly letters to patients for follow-ups, and she realized that one patient had been responding to her letters for 20 years. The office said the patient deserved a gold star, so Risinger sent her a letter plastered with them.

“Several years later, we got a letter from her daughter saying that the patient had passed away and that she had found the letter with the gold stars,” she said. “Even though we don’t actually see patients, we do actually establish a relationship over the years.”

After 40 years, Risinger still finds her job as cancer registrar fulfilling and dynamic.

“It’s an ongoing process, and you’re always learning,” she said.


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