A heartfelt passion for nursing

Svetlana Ganaga is spellbound by the human heart and its remarkable ability to function rhythmically and precisely — even under continual demands over the course of a person’s lifetime.

Photo of nurse Svetlana Ganaga “I became fascinated with the heart when I was a nursing student, and I remain intrigued by everything that has to do with cardiac function and care,” Ganaga said. “I am still amazed at how perfectly the heart can work.”

She is also intrigued by current UC Davis research investigating the molecular pathways that support a regular heartbeat and, when not working properly, contribute to heart failure.

“I find the potential patient-care benefits of such new knowledge very exciting,” she said.

These interests are why Ganaga works today as a nurse for UC Davis Medical Center's Cardiovascular Services, where she is part of the medical and surgical cardiac-care teams. She sees patients both before and after surgery and during the discharge process.

“I develop relationships with patients and families in clinic before they go into surgery. Then, when I visit with them in the hospital, they see someone familiar,” she said.

As hospitalized cardiac patients head home, they are given Ganaga’s phone number and can quickly reach her 24 hours a day, seven days a week if questions or problems arise during their recoveries. Post-surgical patients also see Ganaga when they return to UC Davis for checkups.

“I’m the link between surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, home-health providers, family members – everyone involved in a patient’s care. I make sure they all know about the patient’s needs,” she said.

Ganaga also is involved in patient and professional education. She teaches patients and their families about cardiac care and disease prevention, and she regularly teaches a cardiac review course for nurses, medical students and interns on follow-up care and potential complications for cardiac surgery patients.

“I love to learn and enjoy sharing with others my passion about what I have learned,” Ganaga said. “I understand very well that patients look to me to feel better, and I try to provide them with as much assurance and knowledge as I possibly can.”

She acknowledges that the prospect of a hospital stay can be frightening, especially for patients whose first language is not English.

“That is doubly true for our Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking populations,” said Ganaga, who was born in Ukraine and originally intended to become a pharmacist.

Only three months after entering college in Russia, however, she moved with her family to the United States.

“My second language as a student in Ukraine was German, which did not help here. I took ESL classes along with general education, and I realized I needed to rethink my education,” Ganaga said.

She determined that her primary interests were science and caring for people, so she decided to become a nurse. After earning her nursing degree in Spokane, Wash., and working for a while in geriatric care, she came to UC Davis, where she has been part of the cardiology team for 10 years and has become known for her smiling, caring presence.

In the community, she has volunteered at a school for Russian immigrants, helping people new to this country find their way. She also has been a volunteer nurse at summer camps for girls of Slavic or Russian heritage, where she encouraged them to think about their futures.

“I inspired some girls to pursue nursing and still mentor some who want to be nurses or who have graduated college and are on the way to nursing careers,” she said. “They see by my example what is possible.”

At work, she most enjoys her connections with patients and using her skills and knowledge to help them — as well as give them emotional support.

“I am not afraid to show patients I care about them and what happens to them,” she said. “My satisfaction comes from knowing that I performed the best care I could for them.”