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A Passion for Cancer Care Fuels Rewards of Oncology Nurse Navigation

By Ellie Leick
PUBLISHED THURSDAY, JANUARY 1, 1970
Melissa Andres, BSN, RN, OCN

Melissa Andres, BSN, RN, OCN

Increasingly, patient navigators are being enlisted to help guide patients through their cancer journey, coordinating the many medical, emotional, and financial aspects of frequently complex, multifaceted treatment regimens. And, with the huge growth in the number of cancer survivors, navigators are actively involved in survivorship care, as well.

At the 2016 ONS meeting in San Antonio, Oncology Nursing News sat down with Melissa Andres, BSN, RN, OCN, manager of the oncology patient navigation team at St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital to discuss the growing role of nurse navigators and the rewards she has found in this specialty.

Andres also is the author on a pilot study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and presented at the 8th Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Innovation Conference.1 Her poster described how St. Vincent Cancer Care (SVCC) is implementing interventions to improve overall satisfaction and outcomes for their cancer survivor population. The navigation team oversees the survivorship care plan (SCP) process at SVCC to ensure these plans are completed and delivered by physicians, and she reported that SVCC has exceeded its completion goal for 2015.

Why is the role of navigation so important in cancer care?

We have a team of 9 navigators, both RNs and social workers. Our primary role is to help patients through their cancer care as they go from diagnosis through treatment into survivorship. We primarily help them with any resources they might need or barriers to care they face, so they can get the medical attention they need.

Navigation is essential in a patient’s oncology care. We have great technology, physicians, and nurses, but patients must be able to access that care. Our team assesses the patients for what support and resources they have. With that information, the navigators put a plan in place to make sure they don’t miss appointments and see that their stress and psychosocial needs are addressed, as well as their clinical needs.

What are some of the barriers patients face, and how do you help patients to overcome them?

The main barriers we see with patients are functional barriers. A lot of patients don’t have transportation to get to their appointments, or they can’t pay for the gas needed. We see many patients who don’t have insurance.

If patients don’t know what resources are available, they can feel they have to choose between their medical care and their personal necessities, such as food and paying their bills. We help those patients by connecting them with community resources, as well as resources we have within our institution, to make sure they don’t have to choose between their medical care and feeding their family. They can do both with our help.

Are you finding that more nurses are interested in becoming oncology nurse navigators?

Yes, and personally, it’s the best job I have ever had. I’ve worked as a staff nurse, a clinical educator doing staff development, and a manager for an inpatient oncology unit. I’ve loved all these different roles, but I really enjoy patient navigation because we have time to spend with patients and follow them through their whole cancer journey. We really get to know these patients and their families. Many share personal stories about themselves that they haven’t even shared with their spouse or their best friend. For me, it’s such an honor and a privilege to be a part of such an intimate aspect of their lives.

What advice do you have for those who may want to pursue a career in oncology navigation?

My first recommendation is to make sure you’re passionate about it. You have to have that passion and love for nursing and oncology to really excel. A lot of people have great clinical skills, and you certainly need to have these as well, but to really make an impact on patients and get that satisfaction, you have to have passion for what you do.

What is the role of the ONS core competencies for nurse navigators?

These core competencies provide us all with a consistent baseline of what our profession should be and how we should function. With any profession like ours, you need that groundwork to ensure that we are all practicing to that standard of care. To me as a manager, they’re very important because then I can use these core skills as a way to orient my team to make sure they’re working at that level of competency.
 
Andres M. Strategies to improve the quality and duration of life among cancer survivors at St. Vincent Cancer Care. Presented at: 8th Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference; June 16-18, 2016; Washington, DC. Abstract A-77.
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