Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nurse Navigator Begins at Northwest

By Deb Kirkland, RN, BSN, MPH
Nurse Navigator, Herman & Walter Samuelson Breast Center at Northwest Hospital

The role of navigation in cancer centers has evolved due to the need in assisting patients through their cancer journey. Being diagnosed with cancer can be an overwhelming experience, with a great deal of information delivered to the patient in a short period of time. After hearing the words, “You have cancer,” one’s world can spin (or crash) in less than a nano-second. Anything that is said following these words is a challenge to comprehend due to these words creating such an impact. Many patients have questions ranging from facing mortality to how they will take care of their family to how they will keep working.

Having cancer can be a full-time job and not something one looks forward to penciling in their BlackBerry. While the patient is enduring multiple appointments, the navigator is able to sit down with the patient and place the pieces of the puzzle together, guiding them through this challenging process. The role of a nurse navigator is to educate, support and advocate for patients through the cancer journey by functioning as care coordinators, system navigators, and ambassadors to the community on a mission to improve the quality of the patient’s cancer experience. This navigation begins when a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, continuing through treatment, as well as long-term follow-up.

I know firsthand what it’s like - nearly 8 years ago, I was one of those confused cancer patients. Just after Sept. 11, 2001, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. I was 32 years old, with no family history. Being a nurse, I was well-educated and aware of the statistics, but never imagined I was at risk. I was 100 percent wrong. Today, 85 percent of new breast cancer cases have no family history. I started a group (Young Survival Coalition of Greater Baltimore) and partnered with LifeBridge Health, obtaining a grant from the Maryland Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, called Breast Friends. This program is designed to address the unique needs of women aged 40 or younger affected by breast cancer. The program seeks to meet these needs through support and educational activities. Breast Friends also provides community outreach to young women’s groups and African American women, both populations having a lower incidence of breast cancer, yet a higher mortality rate. Today, this program is solely funded by LifeBridge Health.

My new position is coordinating Breast Friends and being a Nurse Navigator in the Herman & Walter Samuelson Breast Center at Northwest Hospital. The center is a part of the Alvin and Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute at LifeBridge Health. While I am new to Northwest Hospital, I have been a part of LifeBridge Health for the past 5 years coordinating Breast Friends. My new role is to navigate patients in overcoming challenges and assisting them through these unknown waters. Having been there myself, I hope to make the waters less choppy for them.

I will be blogging regularly in this space on breast cancer issues, so feel free to post comments. Meanwhile, if you have a breast cancer question or would like to visit our center, please feel free to contact me by calling 410-521-8831 at dkirklan(at)lifebridgehealth.org.


nancymsb39 said...

Our local hospital has posted an oncology nurse navigator position. I have 32 years oncology experience and OCN since 1997. This sounds like a great opportunity. Any input would be grateful..

old hospice nurse said...

I have recently accepted a position as nurse navigator. This is a brand program with no established guidelines. What are some resources that would be helpful for me? Thanks for your help.

LifeBridge Health Blog said...

nancymsb39 and old hospice nurse,please call me (Elizabeth) at 410-601-1083 and we can discuss further - maybe a conference call with our nurse navigator. Thanks!