Careers: Nurse Navigators Bring Advocacy to the Forefront

If you enjoy working closely with patients but prefer to do so in a role away from the bedside, you might find your dream job as a nurse navigator. Industry trends have expanded this little known nursing specialty recently, as hospitals seek ways to increase coordination of care and meet specific care benchmarks.

What is a Nurse Navigator?

Navigators serve as patient advocates and their primary job is to remove any barriers that patients encounter – whether real or perceived. 

And it’s likely that many new career opportunities in this field will emerge in the next several years, due to one notable event: The American College of Surgeons has issued new standards of care that will require cancer centers to offer patient navigation services by 2015, in order to maintain accreditation status.  Navigators serve as patient advocates and their primary job is to remove any barriers that patients encounter – whether real or perceived.

How do Nurse Navigators help patients?

  • Educating the patient about their disease and treatment options
  • Offering emotional support
  • Helping to manage side effects
  • Linking patients with community resources that may help them stay on track with treatment or improve their quality of life
  • Assisting in communication with doctors and acting as a liaison
  • Offering aid in setting up appointments, getting rides to treatment, etc.
  • Explaining insurance issues and helping with paperwork
  • Ensuring translation services are available to non-native speakers
  • Providing basic nutritional advice

This level of coordination and support is especially useful to patients who face long-term illnesses or complicated treatment plans that require strict compliance. It’s not surprising that cancer centers and oncology practices were among the first medical specialties to embrace navigation as a standard of care, to help patients manage the physical and emotional burdens of their illness.

Where do nurse navigators find jobs?

In the past, most navigators have been employed by hospitals. According to research done by the National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators, in 2010 62 percent of oncology nurse navigators worked for a hospital system, with the balance employed by clinics or private practices. This trend is beginning to change, as more and more medical oncology and radiation oncology practices add navigation services. There is also a trend toward disease-specific navigators within oncology, so different sets of navigators work with lung cancer patients, breast cancer patients, etc. This means job prospects are excellent for oncology nurses who wish to move into navigation.

Other medical specialties also employ nurse navigators, and these include cardiology, open heart surgery, organ transplant programs, orthopedics, and spinal surgery. There are also signs that some facilities are using nurse navigators to reach specific goals – as in this case study of a surgical center that relied on specially trained navigators to reduce the rate of hospital-acquired infections. In this instance, navigators worked with patients pre-operatively to determine MRSA status; followed patients post-op with an eye on avoiding CAUTIs and aspiration pneumonia; and worked with them on discharge instructions regarding proper wound care.

Since nurse navigators are often called upon to bridge cultural or language barriers, there may be special job opportunities for bilingual or minority nurses with ties to a specific ethnic community.

Primary care practices, particularly those based on the medical home model, are also adding nurse navigators, with the goal of helping chronic disease patients manage their illness and stay out of the ER. While doctors and advanced practice nurses still provide episodic care, the navigators are responsible for monitoring compliance to care plans, helping to motivate patients toward a goal, and proactively managing the psychosocial factors that affect compliance. 

In summary…
Nurse navigators fill a vital role in patient advocacy, giving each patient under their care a consistent point of connection in a highly fragmented health care industry.

For more information about the emerging field of patient navigation, including an excellent discussion on how the navigator’s role differs from that of case manager, please follow the link to an informative summary brief from the Center for Health Affairs.

Are you interested in helping patients coordinate their care? The perfect way to build the critical thinking skills you need is through American Sentinel’s online RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program with a specialization in case management. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees that can empower you with knowledge and help you reach your career goals.