May is Oncology Nursing Month. Oncology navigators are often asked, “What does a navigator do?” The answer to that question may be different for each navigator depending on the place the navigator works and the type of patients whom they assist, but a navigator’s main job is to ensure patients remain compliant to the prescribed treatment plan and remove barriers to care throughout their cancer journey.
Here are some of the ways that navigators support patients through every step of the cancer journey.
- Coordinate care and collaborate with the healthcare team. The time from diagnosis to treatment is important in cancer care, and navigators assist patients so there is not a delay in their treatment. Navigators also help facilitate care collaboration from the patient’s doctor. They also work with the patients’ healthcare team to help the patient stay on the prescribed treatment and follow-up plan.
- Advocate for patients. The patient may only see their healthcare provider(s) for a short visit. During that time, they may be afraid or not able to tell them what they want or how they feel. They may also receive different types of information from different healthcare providers, and worry that not everyone understands the care plan. Navigators often become a reinforcing voice for the patient – when they may feel too overwhelmed to communicate. They communicate their wishes and concerns to the healthcare team and they find answers to the questions the patient has.
- Remove barriers and find resources. Barriers are the things that prevent people from getting what they need. Resources are the people, organizations and programs that help fill those needs. Navigators work with patients to search for, and connect them to, the right resources. One example of this is a patient needing a ride to a treatment appointment. The navigator helps connect them to resources that can provide a ride.
- Educate patients and families. Navigators explain what to expect during their cancer journey, teach them about their cancer and help them understand their treatment options and plan of care. They reinforce and clarify what the doctor has discussed and provide educational materials and resources for further learning.
- Support for patients and families. Navigators are a contact for the patient and their family throughout the patient’s cancer journey. They give kind and compassionate attention and are available to guide patients to where they need to go. They provide emotional support by taking time to listen - whether in person or during a phone call. They provide resources to help patients and families cope with the physical and emotional effects of the cancer experience.
Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, has more than 200 oncology-trained nurse navigators helping patients through every step of the cancer journey. Sarah Cannon also provides access to askSARAH - a 24-hour phone line that people can call for cancer-related questions, no matter where they receive their care.
For more information on how nurse navigators can serve as a resource and a support system for people facing cancer, visit How Nurse Navigators are Making Cancer Easier to Navigate.