Nurses have numerous options beyond caring for patients in a hospital setting. Communities need nurses throughout the continuum of care; from preventive health services to complex disease states. When patients and their families are facing a health crisis, nurses are the most obvious choice to guide them through the myriad of diagnoses, testing, review of results, next steps, etc. Enter the nurse navigator.

A relatively new role for nurses, the nurse navigator is assigned to assist and support patients and their families through the foreign maze of the healthcare world. As with any foreign travel, not understanding the language, landmarks, or unusual customs can be terrifying for those facing a life-altering diagnosis. The nurse navigator is both translator and guide to ease the journey of fear and uncertainty.

RELATED: Why the Quality Nurse is Your New Best Friend

Although the role is quickly expanding, most nurse navigators are working with oncology patients facing chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation. For example, nurse navigators at Genesis Health System's Cancer Care Institute employ a team of nurses to have one-on-one contact with patients to offer resources and education regarding the planned treatment. The nurse navigator acts as a liaison between the patient and all members of the care team.

Patients facing treatment for cancer can expect to interact with a large care team. Teams are typically comprised of a Primary Care Physician (PCP), oncologist, hematologist, palliative care physician, pharmacist, behavioral medicine provider, and nurse navigator. While this is ideal and in the best interest of the patient, the vast team can be overwhelming to patients. If a change or problem occurs, it can be confusing to the patient to figure out which care team member to contact. For example, if the patient has a port-a-cath inserted for chemotherapy and there is a problem, does the patient or family contact the PCP, the surgeon who placed the device, the surgery center where the device was placed, the oncologist who ordered the medication to be infused, or the pharmacy that delivered the medication? This is a small example of why a nurse navigator is needed for this fragile population.

RELATED: Advance Directives: NCLEX-RN

Organizations that choose to create roles for nurse navigators are putting the patient at the center of the care, and increased patient satisfaction scores reinforce this fact. Numerous articles are published each year touting not only the intangibles such as the patient's perceived improvement of care, but also decreased hospital readmission rates and ED visits in the departments where nurse navigators are utilized. Most complex disease states require a large commitment by patients and families, and noncompliance to treatment regimens is not uncommon. Departments where a nurse is navigating the care improves compliance and therefore outcomes and overall health of the patients. As medicine becomes more specialized, patients and caregivers need a healthcare expert to guide them through the complexities of care from diagnosis to survivorship. The role of the nurse navigator can provide this expertise with proven return on investment for forward-thinking organizations who put the patient at the center of the care model.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
Latest posts by Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN (see all)
  • How Nurses Can Promote Vaccines Without Promoting Vaccines - June 12, 2020
  • CDC Estimates of Nurse & Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Cases Are Likely Understated - May 19, 2020
  • How Nurses Are Keeping Up With Practice Agreement Changes During COVID-19 - April 8, 2020
CVOR nurse in the the operator room with other doctors and nurses.

What Is CNOR and Why Should You Go For It?The Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) is an organization that focuses on perioperative professional certifications for nurses. CCI identifies the…

Anxious nurses biting finger nails.

You Are Not Alone: Tips to Deal With or Avoid Anxiety for the Nervous New NurseIt's the night before her shift and nurse Kayla is starting to get a sinking feeling in her stomach, worrying…

Nurses holding up hands in confused posture.

The Factors That Bind RNs: Are RNs Nurses If They Don’t Work at the Bedside?Congratulations! You are officially a part of the most trusted profession, with the opportunity to make a difference in people's…

Black ER nurse smiling with arm crossed in ER room.

5 Ways to Improve Your Performance as an ER NurseLike many medical careers, emergency nursing is much different than how it's portrayed on television. With the fast-paced environment of…

Light arrow pointing up surrounded by hands.

5 Leadership Core Competencies That Will Help You Manage NursesBeing a nurse is no easy feat. In addition to dealing with medical procedures, you also interact with many different…