I had dinner with a friend of mine the other evening. We sat out by the river under the oak trees and watched the sun go down. In between her California fish special and dessert, my friend told me about her work as a school teacher and how she is changing the lives of her students every day.
“I mean, we have absolutely no idea what happens to that seed we plant in their minds today,” she said, eyes shining. “No idea what it might turn into! Could become a great big Jack and the Beanstalk for all we know.”
I could see she was genuinely excited by the whole idea. My friend loves her job, not just for the immediate gratification she receives when she knows a child has learned something from her today but also for the satisfaction she gets knowing information she gives today may change this little life way into tomorrow (even if she never hears about it). How many of our own school teachers do we remember years later because of the powerful impact they had on our lives?
As nurse navigators, we fall into the same boat as these teachers of young minds. Information we give to a patient today can be like a small seed landing in the fertile mind of that patient. That seed of information may take us a couple of minutes to deliver, and we need to be intent on educating while we do it, but when done well, it can be life changing. We may not know today, or even in the next few days or months, how this information has impacted the life of our patient, but we know, without a doubt, that educating a patient well does change lives. The education given by nurse navigators today changes patient outcomes. We all have stories of patients coming back months after treatment to tell us how our intervention has impacted them.
It is with this thought in mind that I would like to bring up one of the most exciting educational opportunities we have available to us today as nurse navigators. There is life-changing information we need to be giving our cancer patients every day, but this is one topic we as providers across the board can improve upon. It is the education we give our patients about exercise and its benefits during cancer treatment. How many patients did you talk to about exercise today?
In a 2017 focus group study, Agnes Smaradottir, MD, et al. talk about the fact that patients actually want advice about exercise while they are actively on treatment. Unfortunately, very few patients report they are receiving exercise as a recommendation from their health care team. Most participants in the study did not even remember discussing this with providers, let alone being educated on the benefits. Many other patients were told to reduce their exercise or not worry about starting it in the first place despite the fact that 95% of the patients surveyed felt regular activity which includes exercise is important to them.
The study showed that 80% of patients would like an exercise program they can work on at home. The study went on to say many providers are not comfortable about instructing patients on exercise as they are unclear themselves about what might be recommended for cancer patients on active treatment.
This is where nurse navigators can really make a difference in the lives of patients! The American Cancer Society recommends exercising for 30 minutes, five days a week, starting slow and working up toward this goal. I recommend my patients begin walking to start off if they have not exercised before. I tell them it can be for two minutes around the room if they are feeling really weak, progressing to around the house, the yard, and eventually around the block, as long as they feel safe and able. I remind them that not only is this good physically, it is just as effective for their minds. I recommend they walk with a friend, listen to music or an audiobook if that’s what they like doing, as long as they are moving.
It might be fun for other navigators around the country to share some ways they educate and inspire their own patients when it comes to exercise on any of NurseNavigation.com’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn)! As my teacher friend reminded me the other evening, when we educate, we plant a seed in the mind of that person. Education is empowering. It is up to us nurse navigators to plant those seeds and empower our patients every day.