When you or a loved one is given the scary news of a cancer diagnosis, it can be hard to know what questions to ask or where to begin. It can be overwhelming and stressful to learn how to manage a diagnosis and the subsequent treatments. Thankfully, for many patients there is a solution.
Oncology nurse navigators
Oncology nurse navigators (ONNs) help coordinate care, educate patients and their families and provide psychosocial support as needed. They identify and eliminate barriers that may get in the way of your care, provide the resources to solve problems and promote self-advocacy. They do all this while serving as an advocate for patients.
An ONN collaborates with providers to recognize what is negatively affecting your treatment and work together to eliminate it. “Cancer is not one size fits all,” said Jaime Reichert, an Oncology nurse navigator at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “The journey is different for everyone. Every patient brings to the table an individualized set of circumstances.” The unique position of the ONN is to be able to follow you on your journey and help you every step of the way.
To become an ONN, a person ideally has at least three years of oncology nursing experience. Then, after two years of working as an ONN, they can test for the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators certification.
ONNs vs. oncology nurses
Oncology nurses – or the nurses who you typically see during cancer care – are important players in helping you through your cancer treatments. However, they function differently than ONNs.
“We all play an important role in a patient’s cancer journey,” Reichert said. “When I was an outpatient oncology treatment nurse, I took care of patients for a snapshot of time during the chemotherapy phase of treatment. My focus was on safety and the correct administration of the ordered drug. There just wasn’t enough time to sit with the patient and get to know them well.”
Oncology nurses typically see you during a specific phase of your treatment. ONNs, on the other hand, are available to you and your family throughout your entire cancer journey.
Communicating with ONNs and your doctor
Patients should feel like an ONN is their “go-to” person for questions. You should feel comfortable asking any question or discussing concerns with your ONN. The ONN will answer, if appropriate, or make sure they are in contact with someone who can. Additionally, they will be able to provide you with further resources that you may need.
In general, questions about test results, new symptoms and specific prognostic and diagnostic questions should be addressed with your doctor. However, once those results have been given, an ONN can go over the information with you to make sure you understand as well as answer any further questions you may have.
To work with an ONN during your cancer care journey, you are always able to request their services. In other cases, your doctor may recognize a need and refer you or your family member to an ONN who will then follow-up with you to determine what level of need you have.
If you feel that you or a family member would benefit from connecting with an ONN, reach out to your oncologist about a referral.