Diane Wofsey, RN, BSN, CN-BN, is a nurse navigator for Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Ohio. She has served as a nurse navigator since 2001.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Diane Wofsey: The most important thing I do as a navigator is make the burden of having the diagnosis of breast cancer easier for the patient. The journey she (or he) is about to take can have many obstacles and detours along the way, often without warning. It is confusing and overwhelming. Many do not know what way to turn next. I am like their tour guide on a journey they did not ask to go on.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
DW: My job as a navigator is very rewarding. Knowing that in some small way I have made the journey easier is all the reason I need for doing this job.
I have been a nurse navigator for 15 years. In that time, I have seen the role of navigation expand and improve. I hope the role of the navigator continues to grow in the years to come.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
DW: Patients take great comfort in knowing they have a soft place to fall when it seems to be a never ending journey. I am the familiar face that shows up for yet another surgery, doctor’s appointment or radiology appointment. I answer their questions honestly and in terms they understand, while taking care of the small stuff. I say “small stuff,” but in the breast cancer world there is no small stuff. This may mean where to go to get a wig or be fitted for a mastectomy bra or prosthesis. It might mean that I am there when they shave their head in preparation for hair loss due to chemo.
Someone once described my role as someone who shares the burden, and I think that describes it perfectly. Cancer is a burden that is too great to be borne alone.
Q: What do you see as the role navigators play on a healthcare team?
DW: Nurse navigators are an extremely important part of the healthcare team. Breast center staff, cancer center staff, physical therapists, physicians and nurses throughout the hospital value the navigator’s input and assistance. Breast cancer, as with all cancers, can also be a profoundly emotional journey, and the navigator is prepared to offer emotional support.
However, at times, a navigator’s support is not enough to meet the complex emotional needs that arise. Under these circumstances, the navigator is instrumental in bridging the gap between the patient and necessary services such as counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
DW: The greatest obstacle in navigation is that there are just not enough hours in the day. Many navigators work long hours — not because we have mandatory overtime, but because we take what we do so seriously. I treat each patient as I would want my loved ones treated. That often means their needs do not keep a nine-to-five schedule, and neither do I. At the end of the day, I hope that in some small way I have made the burden of having breast cancer a little lighter to bear.
Q: What do you hope for as the future for nurse navigation in the United States?
DW: The role of the navigator in the cancer world has become such a valuable asset to the patients that I have often wondered why this idea has not moved into other areas of medicine. Anyone dealing with a chronic or life threatening illness of any kind could benefit from the help of a navigator.
The healthcare system is complex, even when an illness is comparatively minor or short-lived. If the illness is severe or chronic, one must deal with emotions, expenses, and the complicated, often obstructed, path to the care they need.