Amy Tinlin, RN, OCN, is an oncology nurse navigator for the Memorial Regional Cancer Center (MRCC) at Memorial Hospital of South Bend (Ind.). Amy began practicing in the fields of medical oncology and radiation oncology in 1984. She became a nurse navigator in 2009, building the hospital’s navigation program from the ground up.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Amy Tinlin: I strive to never allow my patients to feel alone on their cancer journey. The cancer care arena is complex and fast paced, and patients are often frightened and confused about their treatment and their future. I like being on their team that will make their progress to survivorship easier.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
AT: The collaboration I have with physicians, nurses, assistants, and other staff at our cancer center makes us a very cohesive team, which best serves our patients. I tell patients how I might be a patient advocate employed by MRCC, but I really work for them.
Listening is key to determining how I can help my patients. Patients are fearful about their diagnosis, and fear is a very stressful emotion. After discussing their disease state and treatment options so they better understand the situation, patients calm down and want to know the next steps to beating this disease. I love being their advocate and cheerleader through the treatment course so they can get ultimately back to living their lives.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
AT: Navigators do not just care for their patients; they care about their patients. I spend time with all patients to completely understand their needs and wishes, and then to formulate a plan together to enhance their understanding of their disease, treatment, and outcomes. I always want patients and families to feel supported. I never want them to feel alone. When high tech and high touch come together, everyone benefits.
Q: Can you share any particular patient stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
AT: About six years ago, a newly diagnosed cancer patient, who was in the military and stationed overseas, searched the Internet looking for a South Bend-area hospital with a nurse navigator to help arrange her care. While she was wrapping things up with her position in Japan, I arranged for her to see a surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist so her treatments could start as soon as she returned to the area. The woman has completed treatment and is back to living a great life with her family. She still contacts me when she is in town, which makes me aware that I made a positive impact in her life.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
AT: Since I have an extensive oncology background, I am asked to do many different projects and help with solutions to problems, and I just have a hard time saying no. I am pulled in many directions.
Q: What do you see as ways or opportunities to improve nurse navigation?
AT: More awareness of our services is needed at family physician offices, so doctors know how navigation can assist their patients. Marketing and community outreach services are very important to get our message out into the community. As we grow, more navigators will be needed to keep up with the work load. Also, being able to specialize in certain malignancies would be beneficial so navigators could be kept informed about resources and best practices.
Q: What technology do you use in your position?
AT: For now, we have the time-consuming method of searching the schedule, seeing new consults, and adding tasks to our Outlook calendars. We also use a master list spreadsheet so all new patients are listed with notes and nothing gets missed. The less time we spend on paperwork, the more time we have for patients and families.
Q: How do your colleagues view nurse navigation and care coordination?
AT: While the cancer center staff does very well to meet the needs of our patients, they are also very pleased to count on the navigator and social work team to manage certain aspects of patient care. Sometimes the best thing we can offer a patient is our time. Then we work together with the cancer center staff to develop a strategy to meet each patient’s needs.
Q: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating whether to implement a nurse navigation program?
AT: I would say to do it because the role of the nurse navigator is so beneficial to oncology patients and their families. Having a navigation and survivorship program sets your organization apart from others that do not offer the service. Patient satisfaction, making sure things run smoothly for the patient, and having the patient and family feel supported make it worth the while for organizations to invest in a navigation program.
Q: What do you hope for as the future for nurse navigation in the United States?
AT: Nurse navigators will be increasingly important to all medical specialties. We help break through the barriers to care, introduce complementary services, arrange support groups, and educate patients on various treatments, side effect management, distress management, and survivorship care. When you hit all of these key aspects of patient care and follow up, you tend to see more successful outcomes and increased patient satisfaction.