What is the role of the Nurse Navigator in Cancer Care?

Julie Neiggemann, MSN, RN

A new cancer diagnosis can be incredibly overwhelming, from the first news of diagnosis, through multiple tests and procedures, meeting with physicians and the different members of their healthcare team, and the journey thereafter. Much of this occurs in a fragmented healthcare system, which can sometimes lead to anxiety or a sense of loneliness along the way.

This is where Nurse Navigators can be a guiding light, and a connection between what is disconnected.

What is a nurse navigator? Nurse navigators are specialized Registered Nurses who help patients chart a course through their cancer journey. They provide education and support, serve as a liaison between members of the healthcare team, and help connect patients to other supportive services, such as social work or nutritional counseling. Nurse Navigators educate, advocate for, encourage, empower, counsel, and listen to patients as they walk through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.

The concept of nurse navigators is not new, but was created in response to challenges that patients faced in getting access to the medical care they needed. One of the major goals of nurse navigation is to assist patients in proceeding through their treatment plan in as timely a manner as possible to enhance the quality of their care and ultimately improve outcomes. This includes working with the healthcare team to eliminate disparities and identified barriers that impede access to care.

At Mission Hope Cancer Center, every patient has access to nurse navigators free of charge. The Cancer Centers have a team of four nurse navigators and a lay patient navigator, each of whom is an expert in one or several types of cancer. Depending on the individualized needs of each patient, the nurse navigator can:

  • Teach and reinforce information regarding the diagnosis and treatment plan
  • Empower patients to be active participants in shared-decision making with the healthcare team
  • Serve as a liaison to the multidisciplinary team that often involves more than one physician and care team
  • Advocate for patient and for family needs
  • Help identify and overcome barriers to care
  • Provide psychosocial support
  • Assist in navigation through the complex healthcare system
  • Connect to supportive services such as distress management/social work, genetic counseling, nutrition counseling, transportation services, the iThrive Program for improved survivorship, and the cancer rehabilitation program

Did you know? Studies have shown that oncology nurse navigators help to improve patient satisfaction, decrease patient distress and anxiety, mitigate barriers to timely treatment, and decrease length of stay. As a consistent point of contact for patients throughout their treatment journey, the nurse navigator can develop a special relationship with patients, often bringing a sense of stability where patients feel otherwise vulnerable or unsure. The nurse navigators at Mission Hope Cancer Center work closely with the other members of the support team that are dedicated to caring for each patient as a whole person, and truly treasure their role.

For more information or if you would like to start receiving our Cancer Care Newsletter, please call 805.219.HOPE (4673).

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