Alicia Gadzinski, RN, BSN, OCN, CN-RN, is an oncology breast nurse navigator for Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute at the Hospital of Central Connecticut. She started working as a nurse navigator in January 2012.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Alicia Gadzinski: One of women’s greatest fears is learning that they have breast cancer. My goal as a nurse navigator is to empower the diagnosed woman with information so that she can understand what is happening to her and be able to confidently participate in the planning of her treatment. Knowledge makes a huge difference in how a patient feels about her care.
However, an even more important role that I play is providing emotional support. I always make sure that my patients know that I am there for them anytime they need me. Whether they simply need a question answered or a shoulder to cry on, I do my best to help. Instead of merely providing information, I strive to listen and understand so that I can better help them overcome their fears and concerns.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
AG: I’m lucky because I truly love what I do. It sounds cliché, but I really feel that my job allows me to make a positive difference in the most challenging part of some people’s lives. Being able to offer my assistance, support and knowledge when it’s so crucial to them is priceless. There is no better feeling than having a patient tell you something such as, “You are my angel” or “I couldn’t have done this without you.”
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
AG: Oncology may be the most complex of all medical specialties — it involves the emotional, financial and lifestyle components of treatment and recovery. From screening to survivorship, there are many moving parts that must be effectively managed and monitored to promote good outcomes.
This is where nurse navigation has its value. It eliminates barriers that inhibit proper care and helps the system work more smoothly. On a more personal level, it is so important for patients to know that there is somebody who always has their back, whether they need help coordinating appointments or they’re just having a bad day.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
AG: The biggest challenge that I face is a lack of time. Apart from providing individual support for each patient, there are other aspects of navigation which require a lot of attention and resources. It is usually the navigator’s responsibility to prepare and participate in weekly tumor conferences, organize educational programs and events, facilitate support groups, secure and utilize grants, and create and deliver treatment summaries and survivorship care plans to patients. Juggling all the responsibilities and prioritizing them becomes really challenging at times.
Q: What do you hope for the future of navigation?
AG: Nurse navigation is a relatively new role that is contributing to an exciting and challenging frontier in cancer care. However, because it is so new, the medical communities still don’t fully appreciate the value of nurse navigation. There are very limited tools that adequately show the value of navigation programs and the difference navigation makes in patient experiences. We receive surveys and thank you cards, but they don’t reflect the whole picture.
I am lucky to work for an organization which believes in the value of nurse navigation and even launched an advertising campaign dedicated to nurse navigators. As a result, the term “nurse navigator” has become familiar and respected by different disciplines, patients and the community.
Patient navigation programs were developed to reduce gaps in care by improving the timeliness and access of cancer services. Patient challenges begin at the time of the diagnosis and continue throughout treatment, follow-up care, and survivorship. It takes ongoing collaboration of the multidisciplinary team to achieve the best possible patient outcome. However, as long as patients remain the center of care and are supported by nurse navigators, I have high hopes for the future of navigation.